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The Rosetta Mission’s Link to Russia

19 November, 2014

By now you have no doubt heard of the Rosetta space probe and its mission to become the first manmade object to ever successfully landed on a comet. The European Space Agency is behind this ambitious project, and the mission had already accumulated a number of impressive achievements prior to Wednesday. Wednesday, however, was the crowning achievement. On Wednesday. the Rosetta probe successfully landed on the surface of its target comet, the first time any manmade object has done so. The ESA hopes that the probe will be able to relay valuable information about how comets are changed as they are warmed by the sun, as well as give us insights into how planets are formed of our solar system were formed.

You may well be wondering however, what does this have to do with Russia? Well, as it turns out, Russia had a role in the mission, albeit about 45 years ago. Although Russia rarely makes the news for its space program nowadays, mostly shuttling supplies and people back and forth between Earth and the ISS, the country actually has a long and storied history of space exploration. From the first satellite in space, to the first man in space, to far flung probes sent to distant planets that no other country had ever reached, the Soviet Union was a powerhouse of space exploration, and that legacy lives on today in both the Russian space program, and this latest ESA achievement. Because not only did the Soviet Union achieve many world firsts in terms of exploring space physically, they also discovered a great number of celestial bodies, including the comet the Rosetta mission orbited and successfully landed upon!

The comet, although often known simply as 67P, is formally known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Комета Чурюмова — Герасименкo) and was first discovered by a pair of Soviet astronomers in 1969 while looking at photographic plates captured by a high-powered telescope. Little did they know that nearly 5 decades later the comet they discovered would be the first that mankind ever landed on! The probe has now successfully landed and sent back valuable data on the contents of the asteroid, which will hopefully give us some clue as to the precise nature of the formation of our solar system, and possibly where the liquid water on our own planet came from, thanks in some part, to Russia.

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