Since November 1993, scientists and engineers from the U.S. and Europe have been working on building an orbiter and lander for the International Rosetta Mission – a Cornerstone Mission in ESA’s (European Space Agency) Horizons 2000 Science Programme.
The project utilizes a robotic spaceprobe, named Rosetta – comprised of the main orbiter and the Philae (named after the Nile island) robotic lander. Next month, if all goes according to plan, the 10-year journey will culminate with Philae detaching from Rosetta and landing on a comet.
Philae is scheduled to land on November 12, 2014, about seven hours after its detachment at 08:35 UTC. It will then map the comet and gather samples by drilling into its surface. Previous studies by the ESA’s Giotto spacecraft have shown that comets contain complex organics that are rich in carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. These are the same building blocks that make up the essential ingredients of life – such as amino acids and nucleic acids. Thus, Rosetta’s return might shed light on the origins of the galaxy.
Until then, scientists will eagerly await for the lander’s return. As preparation (and in celebration) of this day, space agency scientists, along with Egyptologists, recently visited the Kingston Lacy estate in Dorset on Wednesday. The symbolic visit was a way to highlight the link between Rosetta’s journey and the 19th-century British explorer and adventurer, William John Bankes.
It was naturally the first choice for a meeting place because it was once home to Bankes, who is credited with the discovery of the obelisk on the Philae Island that was later used – along with the Rosetta Stone – to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
When those behind the ESA mission were deciding on a name for the project, they were drawn to both artifacts – and strangely enough, there now exists a “wonder collision” between both fields.
In fact, according to James Grasby, a curator for the modern custodian of Kingston Lacy: “The Philae obelisk led to a greater understanding of the ancient world. The Philae probe may lead to greater understanding of the planets and life on earth.”