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Touchdown! Philae Makes Historic Comet Landing

Nov 12, 2014 04:28 PM EST
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If landers could dance, the Rosetta Spacecraft's Philae lander would be doing a touchdown boogie in the "end zone" of a massive comet right now. That's because the lander just made history as the first man-made craft to ever make a soft landing on the surface of a comet as it continues to hurtle through space.

After Philae successfully parted from its parent craft, the Rosetta comet-chaser, early this morning, the world waited with bated breath as the tiny robot - armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art international equipment - made its seven hour decent towards the carefully selected and aptly named landing zone known as Agilkia.

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(Photo : ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA) The Philae lander just after it successfully separated from the Rosetta spacecraft.

Then, around 16:03 GMT (11 am EST), the signal confirming the successful touchdown arrived on Earth.

The first data from the lander's instruments were transmitted to the Philae Science, Operations and Navigation Centre at France's CNES space agency in Toulouse.

"Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet's surface," Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Director General, said in a statement. "With Rosetta we are opening a door to the origin of planet Earth and fostering a better understanding of our future. ESA and its Rosetta mission partners have achieved something extraordinary today."

[Check out a detailed timeline of the Philae landing HERE and an animattion of the descent below.]

But as with any great achievement, today's landing did not come easy for the ESA's Rosetta team. During its launch away from Rosetta, harpoons designed to anchor the Philae probe to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet failed to deploy.

"We are extremely relieved to be safely on the surface of the comet, especially given the extra challenges that we faced with the health of the lander," added Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center. "[Now] we'll learn exactly where and how we've landed, and we'll start getting as much science as we can from the surface of this fascinating world."

Philae will reportedly stay on the comet, relaying information about 67P to Rosetta for the next 13 months as the comet grows closer and closer to the Sun.

[Credit: ESA/ATG medialab]

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