On November 12, 2014, the Rosetta space mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) succeeded the first soft landing in the history of humanity on a comet. Previously, the mission succeeded another big “first”: it was the first to rendezvous with, and then orbit, a comet.

Beyond the ‘space archeology’ allowed by the mission (comets are ‘time capsules’ that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the solar system[1]), the history of ESA’s mission proves both a high level of technology and the will and strength of the team along two decades: there passed 21 years since the mission’s approval, the project started 18 years ago, the spacecraft spent 10 years travelling in space for over 6.4 billion kilometers[2], started to orbit the comet[3] 3 months until separation for a landing that lasted 7 hours, at 511 million km from Earth[4]. As the ESA’s portal shows, Rosetta’s ‘industrial team’ involves more than 50 contractors from 14 European countries and the United States; the orbiter’s scientific payload was provided by scientific consortia from institutes across Europe and the United States; the lander is provided by a European consortium under the leadership of the German Aerospace Research Institute (DLR)[5], being other members of the consortium: ESA and institutes from Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom[6].

 ESA’s mission Rosetta strengthens the ties between its members, leading to a strengthen European Union in a very important aspect, scientific-technological. “NASA was involved during the early mission definition phase, but then pulled out”[7], and now is involved in 4 experiments of the mission and provide communications and navigation backup during the mission. Other relevant aspect is that by not developing nuclear technology, Rosetta is also “the first space mission to journey beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power generation”[8].

In 2000, The Economist published a study of Jeffrey Sachs, “A New Map of the World”, a text in which the author was demonstrating that ”today’s world is divided not by ideology but by technology” and asserted that ”successful innovation requires academia, government and industry to work in harness”[9].  In our opinion, the obvious success of the Rosetta mission reaffirms European Union as one of the leading actors on the international arena in the scientific-technological development and also as a robust space power, sometimes able to successfully compete with the U.S. and the Russian Federation.


[1] “Deep Impact. Mission to a Comet”, NASA, at the internet address

[2] including 31 month in ‘hibernation’

[3] the comet is about 4 km in diameter and is moving at a speed as great as 135,000 kilometers per hour

[4] thus it took 28 minutes and 20 seconds since the signal of its successful landing reached Earth

[5] this is also running the lander control center. “Rosetta – Europe’s comet chaser”, DLR, at the internet address

[6] “Rosetta’s Frequently Asked Questions”, ESA, at the internet address

[7] idem

[8] idem

[9]Jeffrey SACHS, „A new map of the world”, June 22, 2000, The Economist, at the internet address

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