Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Johnston City, TN – In Isaac Asimov’s famous book “I: Robot” we read of the one unique one. The one who doesn’t go with the flow of history, but instead makes some history of his own. Like an explorer or a scientist, trying something new.

At 7:00 AM, on the twelfth of November, a comet may just break out of the mold of all comets in all known human history. Before now, every comet that has stayed in the sky, flinging its own happy way through the vast darkness of space, has been left alone. Free to do as it pleases, go as it pleases, and eventually disintegrate as it pleases. But now one comet, lucky or unlucky, with the unassuming name of 67P is about to be invaded by human technology.
The three players in this script are firstly: the comet. Named 67P, or lengthened to 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, (for whatever reason) was discovered in 1969, the same year as mankind’s greatest space achievement so far, landing on the moon. A massive chunk of ice and dust and ancient rock, it takes 67P about six and a half years to orbit the sun. This comet never gets hotter than -45 degrees. Coolness will be needed during the night and morning, as the scientists try to finish out the mission, began now over ten years ago, of landing their robot on 67P’s surface. They will face a series of decisions, each one with a go/no-go answer. If all of them come up go, ad 7:00 AM, the last one will be reached, and the point of no-return crossed.
The second player is the Rosetta space ship. Launched ten years ago, it follows in the footsteps of seven other  unmanned crafts that have been able to rendezvous with comets. It will be the first one, if successful, to land something on it.
The Comet 67P
This something is the third player. The Philae lander will approach 67P at about 2.2 MPH. When it touches down, there will probably shouting form the scientists, but the gravity on the comet is so weak, because of its amazingly small size, that the Philae lander will have to anchor itself to the rock, which is still going to be hurtling through space like mad, with a harpoon. The Philae will then take samples of the comet, to help us learn more about it.
This endeavor has been called about as hard as climbing mount Everest. Everything has to go just right. Nothing can be done wrong, there can be no errors. If there are any, then the equipment, after its long flight out, could easily be smashed to pieces or destroyed, and we would then have to wait perhaps another decade, perhaps more, before it can be tried again.
Perhaps one of the most inspiring things about the odds for this project is the space ships’ name. Rosetta. It was named that after the famous Rosetta Stone, the stone upon which was found the clues to unlocking hieroglyphics. For a long time discovering the answers to the hieroglyphics was thought to be nearly if not completely impossible. Yet it was done. In Asimov’s book, I: Robot wanted to break out of the harness and do his own thing. Now an attempt is being  made on I: Comet, to harness, it, its information, and its history, for science.

Andrew C. Abbott

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post, Andrew.

    I really enjoy studying astronomy and its associated sciences - one of them being what you wrote about above.

    One thing that caught my eye was the name of the comet: 67P Churyumov–Gerasimenko. I believe those names are the names of the astronomer-scientists who discovered the body, for comets are named after their discoverers.