Scientists said Thursday the landing craft Philae bounced twice on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and came to rest next to a cliff that’s blocking sunlight from its solar panels. While not everything is going perfectly with Philae, the European Space Agency project is still a huge success. The future of space exploration is being planned in space centers everywhere, from Asia to the Americas. CCTV’s Jim Spellman reported this story from Washington D.C.
European comet mission part of larger space exploration boomScientists said Thursday the landing craft Philae bounced twice on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and came to rest next to a cliff that's blocking sunlight from its solar panels. While not everything is going perfectly with Philae, the European Space Agency project is still a huge success.
The private space industry has faced two major setbacks recently: The explosion of an unmanned rocket to resupply the International Space Station, and the crash of Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two during a test flight that killed its co-pilot.
This week’s successful, though rough, touchdown of Philae provided a needed morale boost for its engineers and for space programs around the world.
“So I want to hail this victory, it is a victory. A victory for Europe,” said French President Francois Hollande.
The Philae is still stable and in good health, but its useful lifetime may now be much shorter. Even so, more and more countries are jumping into the space race.
When the space race began in the 1950s, there were two big players, the United States and what was then known as the USSR. They used rockets to launch satellites, put men into orbit and ultimately land on the Moon. The USSR was first into space, launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The U.S. followed just months later.
The U.S. and Russia are still major players in projects like the International Space Station, but more countries around the world are launching their own space missions with a variety of goals. Now dozens of countries, including China, can put objects into orbit on their own, as well as through membership in the European Space Agency.
Last week China’s unmanned spacecraft the Xiaofei, or little flier, completed an eight-day mission orbiting the moon and returning to Earth.
“This is the first time that a Chinese orbiter camera’s image of the Earth and moon show both together in its lunar orbit during the transfer from the Moon to Earth,” explained Zhang Gao of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. “It is the first image of its kind showing both the Earth and moon together.”
Future missions from China could include manned trips to the moon or Mars, and a permanent space station.
On Earth, Chile is using its ground-based ALMA satellite system to capture the most detailed images ever of new planets being born around a star.
“It’s the first time we have measured, with the antennas, the distance by 10 or 15 kilometers, and it’s a dream that’s come true,” said ALMA Director Pierre Cox. “I mean, people have thought about it for 20 years and now we see it. So it’s like an epiphany, something exceptional and also exceptional in the lifetime of an observatory.”
Traditional space powers like Russia and the U.S. are stilling planning major missions, like NASA’s Orion that will send humans deep into space.
“Leaving Earth and returning to Earth is probably some of the toughest environments, most dynamic and time critical environments that we see flying humans into space,” said Bryan Austin, Lockheed Martin mission manager. “This flight test and this campaign of flight tests are crucial to really understanding those environments of deep space.”
Even so, those missions are years or decades away.
James Rice discusses space exploration boom
CCTV America interviewed James Rice, the co-investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Project, about the Philae mission.