Last year I started a New Year’s Eve tradition of picking the “Top Space Story” for the year. In 2013 it was “The Chelyabinsk Airburst Event”. Hillary Howard, Dimitri Sotis and I discussed on air some of the triumphs and tragedies of space in 2014 which hinted at what I consider to be tops in space this year.
I gave great consideration to naming NASA’s successful launch and recovery of the Orion spacecraft earlier this month as the winner but it lacked one thing that the winner had – empathy.
Sky Guy Greg Redfern’s Top Space Story for 2014 is: The European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta Mission.
Rosetta was a bold mission to a distant comet that took 10 years and billions of miles of precise solar system travel to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet 67/P) in August 2014. One of the mission objectives was to attempt humanity’s first ever landing on a comet via a dishwasher size probe named Philae.
It took several months of reconnaissance of the comet to identify and finally select a suitable landing site for Philae. In the meantime Rosetta returned stunning photographs of Comet 67/P.
The Twitterverse, mainstream media and the ‘net in general were absolutely spellbound (myself included) for a few hours on November 12th as Philae detached from the comet orbitng mother ship and began the drop to the surface. This was a completely autonomous landing with no intervention from Earth or Rosetta and it was do or die, literally, for Philae. A million things could go wrong and some did, but Philae made it.
Tweets, news stories and live feeds about Philae’s fate captivated many and the lander took on a human like persona that endeared it to all. Tweets stating “I did it!”, “I’m feeling a bit tired” created a folowing for @Philae2014 that numbers 386,000 followers and will surely grow.
The little lander that could sent a last Tweet dated November 14th telling all that it was going “zzzzz” – which meant that the onboard batteries were exhausted and hibernation was starting. The Tweets from Philae really struck a chord with all who read them, I know they did with me.
It is hoped that Philae will awake later in 2015 as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko gets closer to the Sun and sunlight hits the craft’s solar panels. This will possibly recharge Philae’s batteries and the data from the surface of a comet can flow once again.
Philae’s parent spacecraft, Rosetta is in good health and will orbit Comet 67/P in the upcoming year. The spacecraft has returned one of the most stunning solar system pictures I have ever seen and beats ANYTHING I saw in the comet disaster movies Armageddon and Deep Impact.
We will learn much about comets with the Rosetta mission in 2015. I will be sending a “Happy New Year” Tweet to Philae tonight. Why don’t you do the same?