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Rosetta mission lander set to explore surface of comet

After a few glitches, Philae robotic probe is set to dig into to 67P’s frozen secrets

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3:20pm, November 12, 2014
comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

TOUCHDOWN  The comet lander Philae has successfully hit its mark: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The leg of the lander appears at the right of this image taken three kilometers from the comet’s surface.

DARMSTADT, GERMANY — Philae is now sitting on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The minifridge-sized lander set itself onto the comet on November 12 and is now preparing to beam back panoramic pictures of its environs and explore the chemistry of the dust beneath its toes.

“We are on the comet,” Philae project manager Stephan Ulamec of the German Aerospace Center in Cologne announced amid cheers and applause as soon as the signal came through at the European Space Agency’s operation center. The successful landing marks the first time scientists have set a spacecraft on the surface of a comet.

The historic landing is more than 20 years in the making and didn’t happen without a lot of hand-wringing. The first glitch arose November 10, when the lander didn’t switch on properly on the first try. Tensions grew even greater on the morning of November 12 when mission scientists identified a problem with the lander’s

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