Philae: The Little Lander That Could

Artist's conception of the Philae Lander

Artist’s conception of the Philae Lander

by Nur Hussein, staff writer

It has been over 72 hours since the Philae Lander first touched down on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The little robot has finally run out of onboard battery power, and has begun its long sleep. Before doing so, it transmitted all the precious data from the experiments it had run, with the last remaining vestiges of its power supply. One can only imagine the anxiety of those hours for the ESA scientists and engineers back on Earth, for this was the culmination of decades of work that hinged on the teeny tiny amount of electrical charge retained in the lander.

We know that Philae landed way off course as it bounced into the shadow of a cliff after both thrusters and harpoons failed to deploy. Sitting unsecured, its exact orientation indeterminate, the ESA crew had to make a difficult call; whether or not to deploy the drill which could possibly shift the lander further into the shadows, or worse, into space. They decided to drill;it was a risk worth the payoff. and after more tense waiting, Philae reported on Friday evening that the drilling maneuvre was successful.

However the battery power was fast fading. The scientists decided on another bold move: to shift the lander and perhaps get a bit more sunlight, just enough to power the robot to transmit all of the hard-earned data it had collected over the period of its sojourn. The lander did indeed rotate itself 35 degrees, and the tweet sent out was “Looks like a whole new comet from this angle.”

After that, in one final act of triumph, the lander transmitted all of its data back to Earth, with very little time left to spare on its battery supply. Such was a climax worthy of every space adventure we’ve seen in science fiction, except this was science fact. We sent a robot onto a comet and it sent back an analysis after intense trials and tribulations. The crew at the ESA rejoiced, and the lander finally earned itself some rest as it went into hibernation mode.

Congratulations, ESA, and the people of Earth – we’ve made yet another step into the final frontier.

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About Nur Hussein

Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein

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