Written by News 1st
13 Nov, 2014 | 8:30 am
This photo from Philae shows the surface during the lander’s approach
A European robot probe has made the first, historic landing on a comet, but its status is uncertain after harpoons failed to anchor it to the surface.
Officials said the craft may have lifted off the comet after touchdown before returning to the surface.
Lander project manager Stephan Ulamec said: “Maybe we didn’t just land once, we landed twice.”
The European Space Agency’s director general described the landing as “a big step for human civilisation”.
Further analysis is needed to fully understand the status of the probe, known as Philae.
However, Dr Ulamec told the BBC that at last radio contact with the probe, he believed it to be in a stable configuration.
“This is the indication right now,” he explained. “We really have to wait until tomorrow morning and then we will know a lot more.”
The “first” landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was confirmed at about 1605 GMT.
There were cheers and hugs at the European Space Agency (Esa) mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, after the signal came through.
Director general Jean-Jacques Dordain described it as “a great great day, not only for Esa, but… I think for the world”.
But then Dr Ulamec delivered the “bad news”. He said telemetry from the craft suggested it might have drifted off the surface after landing and started to turn. This subsequently came to an end, which the German Space Agency official interpreted as a possible “second landing” on Comet 67P.
In fact, even later data would indicate that the Philae robot may have bounced twice, taking a full two hours to come to a rest.
This bouncing was always a possibility, but had been made more likely by the failure of the harpoons to deploy, and the failure of a thruster intended to push the robot into the surface.
Pictures from the surface have been retrieved at Earth and are being processed in preparation for release.
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