On November 12, 2014, a small mechanical box landed on a comet 317 million miles from Earth.
Launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Rosetta mission took along a small probe named Philae, which dropped onto the surface of comet 67P. The mission was to analyze the compounds on the comet to essentially look back into the early history of the universe.
Almost ten years earlier, on January 14, 2005, the Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Launched by a joint mission of the ESA, NASA and the Italian Space Agency ASI, the Cassini spacecraft which took Huygens to Saturn still takes remarkable pictures of the outer planet, while Huygens short mission 720 million miles away ended a long time ago.
Mankind never set down so far away.
We have, however, travelled farther. In August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space. It is now 11.7 billion miles from Earth, continuing its lonely journey through space.
Also in August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars. It continues to explore the Gale Crater with its many exposed layers of rock. The exposed layers enable the rover to more easily analyze different strata to examine whether water ever existed on Mars and consider how the surface of the planet changed through the millennia.
Scientists hope that the various missions to far flung places will deepen the understanding of our own planet.
Or to put it more poetically:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot
The great First One Through music video of the Mars Curiosity mission (music by Boston):
Voyager 1: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/where/