This story sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood movie: Earlier this week, the Rosetta spacecraft managed to safely land a refrigerator-sized robot named Philae on a comet. This Mashable article details the entire event.
The comet in question was speeding between Jupiter and Mars at nearly 40,000 m.p.h. Besides the incredible speed of the comet, a lot of other factors played into whether this landing was going to be a success. For example, the comet’s gravity is 100,000 times less than Earth’s, so there was a very real fear that Philae could immediately bounce off the comet and back into space.
To counter this, Philae was armed with harpoons to tether itself to the comet. The initial harpoon actually failed, but the second attempt was successful and ensured that Philae landed safely. Due to the great distance from Earth, any commands or confirmations sent between the controllers and the Rosetta/Philae took more than 28 minutes either way.
The mission was conducted by the European Space Agency and only had a 70 percent chance of success. This particular mission had been 10 years in the making, so failure would have been a major setback. The hope now is that the robot can begin studying the comet, and possibly shed light on Earth’s origins.
Regardless of the findings, Philae is in for one heck of a fast ride through space.