29 September 2014
Rosetta Space Mission – Unlocking the Origins of Life on Earth
In 1799, the European Space Agency’s website states an ancient stone found linking three languages together allowed for the first time scholars to translate hieroglyphs, which lead to a comprehensive understanding of ancient Egypt, an understanding unparalleled at the time. The namesake Rosetta Space Mission will be the European Space Agency’s attempt at successfully launching a spacecraft that will orbit a comet and eventually launch its own lander onto a comet with the intent of better understanding the origins of life on Earth. Comprehending the fundamentals of life on earth is not only important to scientists, but to all humans. The magnitude of the Rosetta Space Mission marks itself as unparalleled in human effort and potentially will lead to future space exploration and to greater and broader knowledge of life, not only the origins but also the future of life.
The scope of the Rosetta Space Mission and how long the ESA has been working on this project coupled with the journey the spacecraft made in order to orbit the comet is beyond most normal conceptions of how long a mission of this nature may take. While the mission was approved in 1993, the spacecraft was not launched for nearly another 11 years later on March 2, 2004. An initial launch date in 2003 was scrapped when an Arianne 5 rocket failed during launch (Gugliotta A.08). Even with the successful launching of the spacecraft another 10 years passed before Rosetta made a rendezvous with the comet. Miriam Kramer in her article, “5 Amazing Facts
About Europe’s Cometchasing Rosetta Probe” states, “In total, the Rosetta probe spent a decade traversing about 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km) to make its historic rendezvous with Comet 67P/CGon Aug. 6” (Kramer, M.). During the decade long journey from earth to comet 67P/ChuryumovGersimenko, the comet chosen for the mission, the Rosetta spacecraft will use gravity assists from Earth and Mars to obtain the necessary speed to reach the comet (Glassmeier et al 4). The fact the spacecraft made the journey to comet 67P/ChuryumovGersimenko is deserving of attention enough, but the scientific experiments conducted on the mission are of great importance as well. The spacecraft is made of two primary bodies, the orbiter and the housing for the Philae lander. The orbiter, or main body, holds 12 scientific experiment devices and the Philae lander, which will be landing on the comet, will conduct 10 scientific experiments separate from the orbiters (Glassmeier et al 10). The knowledge gained from the combination of the experiments will form the most comprehensive understanding of comets in history (“Rosetta Space Probe”). On the way to comet 67P/ChuryumovGersimenko, the Rosetta spacecraft was able to obtain photographs of two asteroids, Lutetia and Steins, which will also help scientist currently studying asteroids (“Rosetta Asteroid Flyby”). In, “Rosetta Completes Amazing Journey to Comet 67P”, Chris Bergin states, “Rosetta greeted two asteroids ... Steins, a rare Etype asteroid. The second ... Lutetia, a large asteroid, about 10 times bigger than steins” (Bergin).
While the science experiments are of varying degrees of importance, landing the Philae lander will be the most difficult part of the whole endeavor being the first time a human craft will attempt to land on a comet traveling through space. When the probe arrives at comet 67P/ChuryumovGersimenko, Rosetta will spend several weeks taking photographs of the comet so that scientists may study the surface in search of the most suitable landing site (Bergin). After weeks of scrutiny from scientists working on the mission, one site chosen from amongst the multiple candidates offers the most advantageous area for scientific analysis. Ken Kramer, writing for universetoday, comments, “Site J is an intriguing region ... that offers unique scientific potential,