Goals: The European Space Agency’s Rosetta is the first mission designed to orbit and land on a comet. It consists of an orbiter and a lander — called Philae. The two spacecraft carry 20 science instruments to make a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for two years as it approaches our sun.
Accomplishments: In August 2014, Rosetta became the first spacecraft to orbit a comet when it joined comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on it’s journey around the sun. On 12 November 2014, Rosetta scored another historic first when its Philae probe successfully landed on the surface of the comet and began sending back images and data.
The Rosetta mission achieved many historic firsts:
- Rosetta was the first spacecraft to orbit a comet’s nucleus.
- It was the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it head towards the inner Solar System.
- Rosetta was the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.
- The mission was the first to dispatch a robotic lander to a comet nucleus.
- The Rosetta lander’s instruments obtained the first images from a comet’s surface.
- Rosetta was the first spacecraft ever to fly close to Jupiter’s orbit using solar cells as its main power source.
Scientists were eagerly to compare Rosetta’s results with previous studies by ESA’s Giotto spacecraft and by ground-based observatories that showed that comets contain complex organic molecules – compounds that are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Intriguingly, these are the elements which make up nucleic acids and amino acids, the essential ingredients for life as we know it. Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? Rosetta’s data is contributing to this fundamental question.