Humans Have Landed Spacecraft On These Seven Celestial Bodies
Asteroid 25143 Itokawa (2005)
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sent Hayabusa (“peregrine falcon” in English) to Asteroid 25143 Itokawa on the first return sample mission from a near-Earth asteroid. Launched in 2003, and reaching the asteroid in 2005, it actually landed on 433 Eros in 2000, but took off again. The craft isn’t technically a lander—it’s more of a leave the probe running while it gets some stuff situation. It parked on Itokawa on November 20, 2005 for about a half hour, but its sampling device didn’t deploy, so it tried again on November 25. This time the mission was successful and it took a sample, which it returned to Earth five years later.
One of the findings from the mission is that the asteroid Itokawa was likely formed when two smaller asteroids stuck together, bound by gravity (which, along with love, is the only thing that transcends time and space, if you hadn’t heard).
Comet 69P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (2014)
And lastly, our Philae lander, which set down on Comet 69P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko just a few days ago on November 12, 2014. The lander touched down on the comet, but not everything went as planned. Its harpoons, which were meant to anchor it onto the comet’s surface, never deployed, so the device has been bouncing around quite a bit.
Now, the solar-powered lander is below a cliff in permanent shadow, which is a problem—the craft needs 6-7 hours of sun each day, but in this spot will only get about 90 minutes. The folks at ESA are trying to decide if they want to attempt to relocate the lander, but if it falls over, there’s nothing securing it to the comet. Regardless of what happens, Philae has done humanity proud—but here’s hoping it can find a little more sun.