In September 2016, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft crashed into Comet 67P, bringing an end to 12 years of service — or so the ESA thought. While they believed they had already received Rosetta’s final image of the comet, the organization recently discovered one more, revealing the true final moment before impact.
The image previously thought to be Rosetta’s last was taken from a height of about 23.3 to 26.2 meters (76 to 86 feet), but the ESA estimates that this new image was taken from about 18 to 21 meters (59 to 68 feet) above the comet’s surface. They claim it captures an area of about one square meter (10 square feet).
When Rosetta purposefully set itself on a crash course with 67P, it transmitted the last of its images in six separate packets. However, due to an unexpected transmission interruption, only three made it back to Earth.
“Later, we found a few telemetry packets on our server and thought, wow, that could be another image,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the OSIRIS camera at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, in a statement.
The craft transmits images in layers, with each new layer adding detail to the image, so Sierks and his team had to assemble Rosetta’s final image one layer at a time. The ESA notes that while some of the finer details were lost, the final result is a zoomed-in shot of the spot Rosetta is thought to have impacted.
This may be the last we see from Rosetta, but it’s a fittingly unexpected end for a spacecraft that contributed so much to space exploration while traversing our solar system for more than a decade.
Last year, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced plans for building a permanent lunar base—called Moon Village—which would be a step forward as the International Space Station (ISS) is slated to be decommissioned in 2024. The Moon Village is a part of ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Wörner’s Space 4.0 concept, a new epoch in the space sector where space exploration is no longer exclusive to the public sector but open to private organizations as well.
Space 4.0 garnered worldwide cooperation, with all 22 ESA member states along with cooperating states outside the EU expressing support. After multiple rounds of lively discussion (as well as exhausting negotiations on funding), his proposal “Space 4.0 for a United Space in Europe” amassed €10.3 billion ($10.77 billion) in pledges.
The “tinge of disappointment” comes from the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM) failing to get financial support. AIM was supposed to be a defensive “learning exercise” that would use NASA’s Dart impactor spacecraft to deflect asteroids. “It was an example of ESA at its absolute best: daring, innovative and ambitious all at once,” he wrote.
ESA isn’t the only one with eyes set on the Moon. British architecture firm Foster + Partners designed their own version of an inflatable lunar habitat with a catenary dome capable of shielding inhabitants from space radiation and small debris. The Google Lunar XPRIZE also challenged a battalion of claimants to aim for the Moon. India, Russia, Japan, and China’s space agencies are also in the race.
As for extraterrestrial settlements, Mars is a competitor for NASA’s attention. But although Elon Musk plans to send humans to Mars soon, building a colony there would probably take longer than building a Moon Village. For one thing, a one-way trip to Mars alone takes three years—preparations not included, which is why the estimated timeframe for a Mars colony is reasonably set between the next 40-100 years. A trip to the Moon, on the other hand, takes only about three days. And because ESA plans to 3D-print structures out of materials from the Lunar regolith, the cargo necessary for each trip would be substantially lessened.
A “Backup” for the Species
Some people contend that funds and efforts spent on space exploration are a waste of resources, especially considering the fact that we have people starving and dying here on Earth to whom aid could be redirected. While that’s true, scientists argue that if we do not build alternative settlements away from Earth, it’s highly probable that the entire species (and the entire planet) would be snuffed out at some point—whether it be due to an outside force such as a comet, or an internal conflict such as warfare. A colony outside the Earth would play an important role in the survival of the human race—a “backup” for the species, if you will.
World renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking tells Big Think: “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”
Looking ahead into the long-term future—a hundred, a thousand, a million years forward—is a grueling job that has to be done. Scientists and futurists take it upon themselves to look at the larger picture, beyond religion, politics, and other social issues, to see the human race in the context of a colossal universe in which we are nothing but an infinitesimal speck, struggling to beat the cosmic odds.