Rosetta Mission: Comet landing makes history

The Philae space probe may be almost 500 million kilometres away, but it still managed to stay connected with modern life on earth, sending out a tweet from its new home on board a comet.

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“Touchdown! My new address: 67P,” it said.

Inside the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, scientists who have been working on the mission for more than a decade leapt out of their chairs to cheer.

But it wasn’t a flawless landing for the Rosetta Mission, which has so far cost more than $1.4 billion and taken more than two decades to execute.

Before the Philae probe detatched from its mother ship Rosetta, its cold air gas thruster failed, threatening to stymie the entire mission. The thruster was designed to help stabilise the probe once it reached the rocky and uneven surface of the comet.

Engineers attempted to re-start the thruster. When they couldn’t, they decided to proceed regardless, relying on a set of two anchoring harpoons to ensure the craft stays upright. 

Concern grew when it became clear there was also a problem with the harpoons.

“I’m on the surface but my harpoons did not fire,” Philae tweeted. “My team is hard at work now trying to determine why.”

I鈥檓 on the surface but my harpoons did not fire. My team is hard at work now trying to determine why. #CometLanding

鈥?Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014

Australian avionics engineer Warwick Holmes, who has worked on the mission for the past 12 years, told SBS yesterday that even if the probe landing wasn’t successful, the mission had already taught scientists much more than they already knew about comets and space travel.

鈥淥ne of the most surprising discoveries is that [the comet] smells disgusting,鈥?he said.

鈥淚t smells like bitumen, wet hay, welding gas and ammonia; revolting smelling chemicals.鈥?/p>

Scientists hope to test the theory that water and amino acids were delivered to earth via a comet that collided with the planet, bringing with it two important building blocks of life.

Up close and personal with comet 67P-CG:

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