By Martin Barstow
Patience, it is said, is a virtue. If that’s the case, then the scientists involved in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission have been very virtuous indeed.
After all, the men and women involved in the project have waited most of their scientific careers — through years of planning and construction, not to mention the 10-year journey of the Rosetta spacecraft — to see the Philae lander land on Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko. And now they can enjoy the fruits of this amazing adventure, which has landed (albeit a little bumpily) and has been returning data.
Rosetta was an enormously ambitious and technically risky project. However, overall, it has been a great success so far, with a number of “firsts” for ESA that have not been achieved by any other space agency — it has chased a comet across the solar system, rendezvoused and then achieved orbit.
Landing a probe on the surface like this has been a huge challenge: working in a low gravity environment with poor knowledge of the nature of the comet surface. It was unclear even if it would it be a solid body or a loose collection of material.
And there are plenty more challenges ahead. For a start, although data has been collected from the orbiter since August, and the first images are now being received from the lander, it will take many more months and possibly years for Rosetta to realize its full scientific legacy.
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