ESA Lands Lab On Comet, Fears It Will Fall Off

Joseph Cantu ’15

Recently, the European Space Agency succeeded in landing–for the first time in human history–what is essentially a lab for analyzing the makeup of rocks on a comet. Applauded around the world for achieving a feat that many critics contended would not be possible, the ESA has taken a major step forward in terms of scientifically understanding what our universe was like at the creation of time. In fact, it is believed that the comet itself was formed before our own universe, making the data scientists will be able to collect from the composition of the comet extremely valuable.

However, not all went as planned. Just before the spacecraft successfully landed on this comet, tests on the spacecraft came back saying that the rockets on top of the spacecraft, meant to help hold the lander in place, were not responding. The scientists decided to go ahead with the landing anyway, figuring that the two other devices attached to the spacecraft, screws on the bottom which would screw into the comet itself, as well as three harpoons that would also shoot into the comet to hold the spacecraft in place, would be sufficient. The situation went from bad to worse though when after a near perfect landing on the comet, the harpoons failed to deploy, leaving the screws as the last possible way the spacecraft could cling onto the side of the comet. Unfortunately, the spacecraft’s soft landing was due to landing on what is essentially a large bed of cosmic dust, a surface which is not at all ideal for screws meant to be screwed into solid rock.

Left without any real means of staying attached to the top of the comet, many fear the spacecraft will eventually simply drift off the comet, making the timeframe during which the scientists can examine the interior of the comet much shorter than they originally envisioned. Because of how far away the spacecraft is from earth (roughly three-hundred and eleven million miles), scientists at the ESA aren’t entirely sure what went wrong to cause the rockets and harpoons to fail, leaving the scientists with no way of rectifying the situation. Without any real means of fixing the problem, scientists around the world can only hope that the spacecraft remains firmly attached to the comet for a little while longer so the scientists at the ESA are able to collect their first round of tests on the makeup of the comet.