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'We Are On The Comet!'

by Gordon Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate and consider the European Space Agency’s successful mission to land a probe on a comet.

Preparation and materials

Please check for the latest updates to this story on the BBC News website or other reputable news site.


  1. Briefly recap the key facts as follows:

    Lander probe Philae (‘feelay’) touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or just say Comet 67P) after a ten-year, 6.4-billion-kilometre journey.

    Landing took place at 1605 GMT on 12 November 2014.

    It was carried to the comet on its ‘mother ship’ Rosetta, which it uses to relay its messages to Earth.

    The whole mission was designed and engineered by the European Space Agency, and the command centre is in Germany.

    After separating from Rosetta, Philae took seven hours of careful manoeuvring to reach the surface.

    Then the anchors that were supposed to fire into the surface, making the comet secure, didn’t work, and the probe bounced twice before settling and really getting to work.

  2. Say that, like all such brilliant scientific and engineering achievements, this mission relied on teamwork. Each team member had to play his or her part, each bringing specific skills and knowledge to make up the whole.

  3. This approach is something that can be applied to any working situation and there’s a real bonus when teams work successfully together because there’s nothing like sharing success with people you’ve worked with – just take a look at the film from Mission Control when the landing was confirmed.

  4. But what’s the point of sending a probe to a rubber-duck-shaped piece of ice and rock in an eccentric (long and narrow) orbit around our sun?

    The comet is made up of material left over from the very birth of the solar system, so studying it will give us clues as to how the solar system was formed. As human beings, we want to find out about ourselves and where we come from; it seems that we just can’t stop exploring and seeking what’s over the next hill, whether it’s in the British countryside or on a distant rock in space.

    That’s one reason. Another is that knowledge brings understanding and we can never know where or how that understanding might have practical uses. This applies both to what we might find out from being on the surface of Comet 67P and what was discovered in building and operating Rosetta and Philae.

    Finally, we have discovered that, even with setbacks, we can send probes far out into space to land on fast-moving small targets. It makes you wonder if there is anything humans cannot achieve!   

Time for reflection

Basketball star Michael Jordon said, ‘Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.’

It is teamwork that got us to Comet 67P, and teamwork that will help us to move forward in all sorts of areas. Of all the skills and knowledge we gather at school, it can be argued that the ability to learn from, share with and work alongside others offers the best preparation for adult life.

Publication date: November 2014   (Vol.16 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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