Article by: Dan Jachim
To the untrained mind, Rosetta’s lander, Philae, may seem like a total failure. The spacecraft crashed over 1000 meters away from its designated landing spot and is now stuck in darkness, unable to recharge its batteries with its solar panels. By all means, this does not look like the ideal circumstances for the first landing of a spacecraft on a comet. However, this simply is not true. Not only was the event itself a monumental success, but it has significant cultural implications as well.
Firstly, consider the technological wonder that was this event. Roughly ten years ago, a small box, roughly one cubic meter in volume, was launched at an approximately 4-kilometer-wide comet. It was an estimated ten-year trip that would cover about 6.4 billion kilometers – and it was done. In comparison, the moon is about 1000 times closer to Earth and 100 billion times bigger than 67P, the comet Philae landed on. The difference between the two is so staggering, it is unimaginable compare the two events.
Secondly, think about the cultural implications. Since the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union (which was then succeeded by the Russian Federation) have been the two space-driven powers of the world. These two countries collectively launched the first living beings, humans, and stations into space. They were the first to successfully land probes and people on another celestial body, and were also responsible for feats such as the first space walk. But now, a project arguably more impressive than those of the past has been completed by the European Space Agency, with only minimal assistance from the other space powers. Junior Martin Narcisso claims this is great news for the industry. He believes that these smaller agencies as well as private companies like SpaceX will “revolutionize something that hasn’t really changed since 1981.”
Although the only hope Philae has of success is if an orbit turns it towards the sun, what it stands for will continue to be important. It shows that we accomplish what we once thought was impossible, but more importantly, it shows that anyone can do it.