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Thursday, November 13, 2014, 14:31

European spacecraft lands on comet

By Agencies
 European spacecraft lands on comet

A handout photo released by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Nov13, 2014 shows an image taken by Rosetta's lander Philae. Rosetta's lander Philae is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as this CIVA image confirms. One of the lander's three feet can be seen in the foreground.(AFP PHOTO / ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

DARMSTADT - Landing with a bounce after traveling 4 billion miles, a European spacecraft made history Wednesday by successfully reaching the icy, dusty surface of a speeding comet - a cosmic first designed to answer big questions about the universe.

The landing by the washing machine-sized craft after a decade-long journey required immense precision, as even the slightest error could have resulted in stellar calamity.

Indications were that the spacecraft touched down almost perfectly, save for an unplanned bounce, said Stephan Ulamec, head of the lander operation.

"Today we didn't just land once. We maybe even landed twice," he said with a chuckle.

Ulamec said thrusters that were meant to push the lander, called Philae, onto the surface, and harpoons that would have anchored it to the comet failed to deploy properly. Initial data from the spacecraft indicated that it lifted off again, turned and then came to rest.

Scientists were still trying to fully understand what happened and whether those failures would affect the lander's ability to remain on the comet, called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But so far, most of the instruments were working fine and sending back data as hoped, Ulamec said.

"Tomorrow morning we should know a lot more," he said.

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