What could be more fitting for World Space Week (10/4-10/10) than to celebrate the successful touchdown on September 30th of the Rosetta spacecraft on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko! This accomplishment represented an enormous worldwide collaboration of 2,000 people, and it will continue over several decades through groundbreaking analyses on information collected during the mission.
During a 12-year space odyssey spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA), and supported by NASA, Rosetta did a close flyby of Mars and took a good look at asteroids Steins and Lutetia, deepening scientific knowledge about all three. But Rosetta’s real goal was to catch up with Comet 67P and collect detailed data about the comet as it traveled into the interior solar system.
Launched on March 2, 2004, Rosetta finally reached Comet 67P on August 6, 2014 and adroitly maneuvered into orbit—a space first!—while sending back a treasure trove of information like this selfie taken about 30 miles from the comet. This information is leading to eye-popping findings, such as the discovery that water vapor on the comet is substantially different than that found on Earth. See Rosetta’s extensive scrapbook of findings here. The final entry in the scrapbook—an amazing photo taken just about 22 yards from the surface of the comet—adds to the storehouse of data.
Is this the end of Rosetta? Not likely. Even though she has finished her mission, she has sparked ample scientific work that is already underway, and will surely inspire new insights work for years to come. Still, the ESA control room fell nearly silent with Rosetta’s final transmission. The loss of a ‘friend,’ as the anthropomorphized Rosetta came to represent, must have been poignant after so many years. But future generations will likely circle back to Comet 67P and Rosetta, who signed off from her remarkable adventure with a rousing Mission Complete!