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Thursday, November 13, 2014, 14:31

European spacecraft lands on comet

By Agencies

 European spacecraft lands on comet
A picture shows a model of the European Space Agency's (ESA) robot craft Philae at the the Cite de l'espace (Space City) in Toulouse, southern France, on Nov 12, 2014, the day Philae began a 20-kilometre (12-mile) descent toward the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet after being launched from the space probe Rosetta, following a 10-year journey. (AFP PHOTO / REMY GABALDA)

The landing team at mission control in Darmstadt had to sweat through a tense seven-hour wait that began when Philae dropped from the agency's Rosetta space probe as both it and the comet hurtled through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph).

During the lander's descent, scientists were powerless to do anything but watch, because its vast distance from Earth - more than 300 million miles - made it impossible to send instructions in real time.

Finally, at 16:03 GMT (11:03 am EST), the agency received a signal that the lander had touched down.

While it may take a while to determine the exact state of the 220-pound (100-kilogram) lander, the fact that it was resting on the surface of the comet was already a huge success - the highlight of Rosetta's decade-long mission to study comets and learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies.

The head of the European Space Agency underlined Europe's pride in having achieved a unique first ahead of its US counterpart, NASA.

"We are the first to have done that, and that will stay forever," said the European agency's director-general, Jean-Jacques Dordain.

 European spacecraft lands on comet

The image released by the European Space Agency ESA on Nov 12, 2014 shows an artist rendering by the ATG Medialab depicting lander Philae separating from Rosetta mother spaceship and descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (AP Photo/ESA, ATG Medialab)

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