Philae’s journey is one that has been a long, and stressful period for members of the team responsible for the first-ever comet landing, in space history.
Philae may have only left its home on the Rosetta spacecraft on November 12th but that doesn’t mean scientists, astronomers, the team members maintaining control, and space enthusiasts alike have not been subjected to an incredible amount of stress and pain. In fact, even dating back to the initial launch of Philae, from its mother ship, Project Scientists Matt Taylor noted that “I was relayed yesterday [the day of launch], and now that exponential increase into stress and excitement is there. And I’m on the up now.”
It’s been a story of many ups, and very few downs for the individuals on this mission and controlling the situation as best they can. Paolo Ferri, the Rosetta Mission Director at the European Space Agency noted that he was “Extremely stressed” when the landers did not properly deploy, and the small craft Philae bounced and landed a second time before finally sticking to the surface, temporarily.
However, after the initial separation, the news was good – and it kept coming by the moment. First, the news that the separation, and appropriate signals were received from Philae – and then finally the moment the lander reached the planet Matt Taylor belted out “We’ve landed on a comet!”
It bounced twice, and finally landed in a dark crevice and the chore became keeping the lander going, since it is largely powered by battery packs – which rely on the sun to ensure that the device can power up again. They described the moment of touchdown as being a very intense, but gratifying moment because the scientists knew that the most challenging aspect of the journey had essentially been completed.
The collection of information on the comet is important because scientists believe that it is how water and other valuable variants to Earth’s form today came from those very interactions and masses in space.
Right now it’s unclear what the absolute future of the Philae craft will be, if the solar panels are able to get a day, or two of heat on them – the batteries could be powered back up enough to make the journey back to the Rosetta spacecraft. However, right now it appears as though the future is highly in question.
“This feeling that there’s a manmade object next to this alien landscape, it just blows your mind. And I think that’s the thing, it’s there, and wow, it’s a wow factor,” said Taylor. For scientists, both watching the comet, and those operating the craft, ultimately this is just an impactful moment for the singular feat that was accomplished. Something so huge, and so massive.