After more than a decade of careful planning and hours of nail-biting tension, this morning an emissary from Earth made history’s first soft landing on a comet. The European Space Agency’s dishwasher-size Philae lander touched down on the craggy surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko shortly after 10:30 A.M. Eastern time, after being released seven hours earlier from its mother ship, the Rosetta orbiter.
“We are there. We are sitting on the surface. Philae is talking to us,” said Philae lander manager Stephan Ulamec during a live Webcast of the landing. “We are on the comet.” The lander seems to be fully operational, ready to begin its unprecedented close-up exploration of the icy comet. The lander’s suite of instruments notably includes a drill for accessing material from the comet’s subsurface as well as a small chemistry lab to analyze the retrieved samples. Data from the lander, it is hoped, will reveal more about the solar system’s earliest history, and potentially help scientists piece together a fuller picture of how water-rich comets and asteroids may have delivered oceans to the infant Earth.