On November 12, the European Space Agency is set to detach the Philae lander from the Rosetta spacecraft to attempt the first-ever landing on a comet.
The journey to this moment is more than a decade in the making. This picture from 2002 shows Rosetta receiving vibration tests in the months leading up to launch. Back then, the plan was an eight-year flight to comet 46P/Wirtanen. But when launch was delayed, the mission had to be re-focused on its current target, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Click through this gallery to follow Rosetta's remarkable road trip across the cosmos.
This image from the European Southern Observatory taken in January 2004 shows comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko as seen from Earth. We now have a much better idea of how it really looks thanks to Rosetta. Keep flipping forward for this comet's close-up.
Published:Caption:Eric MackPhoto:ESA and European Southern Observatory
After 13 months of delays, Rosetta finally blasted off in March 2004 from Kourou, French Guiana. At the time of launch, Facebook was just a month old, YouTube did not yet exist, and the launch of iPhone was nearly three years away.
Published:Caption:Eric MackPhoto:ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Rosetta went into deep space hibernation for the final part of its journey to conserve power, sleeping through half of 2011 and all of 2012 and 2013. Finally, on January 20, 2014, mission controllers cheered when they received the first signal from the newly awoken spacecraft half a billion miles from Earth.
When Rosetta finally arrived at its destination in August, it began months of mapping the comet to begin selecting an ideal landing spot for Philae. The comet turned out to have an irregular shape like a long-suffering butterfly or kidney.