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 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