Europe’s Rosetta is the first spacecraft to ever orbit a comet
After travelling through space for more than a decade, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spaceship has completed its mission to intercept Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft to have ever rendezvoused with a comet, nearly 250 million miles away from Earth.
Rosetta will now begin to orbit the common, which has been given the nickname “The Rubber Duck”, for the next few months. Later this year, Rosetta will deploy Philae, the first spacecraft in history to attempt a landing on a comet.
Philae is equipped with numerous instruments that will allow the people on Earth to find out once and for all what actually happens on a comet. One of the most important questions that this could help answer is whether comets are actually the vehicle by which prebiotic molecules or early microorganisms were spread throughout the Solar System in its earlier days.
Rosetta was launched aboard the Ariane 5 rocket all the way back in March of 2004. In order to reach 67P, a comet which orbits the sun every 6.45 years, Rosetta has travelled nearly 4 billion miles, having used the gravity of both Earth and Mars to help is gather the speed it needed to sling-shot into the comet’s path.
The comet itself is soaring through space at a whopping 34,000 miles-per-hour. Despite this, the people at the ESA have somehow managed to manipulate Rosetta in such a way that the spacecraft is only 2.2 miles-per-hour faster than the comet. This is especially impressive considering Rosetta had to spend 10 years catching up to the comet.