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Rosetta's long journey from here to a comet (pictures)

Rosetta spent more than a decade traveling from Earth to hop a ride on a comet for the first time in history. Here's a look back at one long cosmic road trip.

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Eric Mack
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1 of 14 ESA/A.Van Der Geest

Vibration testing

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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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2 of 14 ESA

Solar wings

Drifting through open space, it can be hard to get a sense of scale. This shot of Rosetta's solar collecting wings from June 2002 actually shows just how big this comet-conquering craft is.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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3 of 14 ESA-Service Optique CSG

Pre-launch lander

Another shot from 2002 shows just how big the Philae lander actually is. It's the smaller craft suspended from the ceiling. Rosetta is to the right with its communication dish facing the floor.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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4 of 14 ESA and European Southern Observatory

Destination seen from home

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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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5 of 14 ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Service Optique CSG

Lift-off!

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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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6 of 14 CIVA / Philae / ESA Rosetta

Mars below

Taken from the Philae lander attached to Rosetta, this image from the early part of the mission shows the craft near its closest approach to Mars, with an awesome shot of the Red Planet below.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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7 of 14 ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Asteroid encounter

On its way to its eventual destination, Rosetta did some sightseeing. This is a close-up of an asteroid named Lutetia in the main asteroid belt from a 2011 fly-by.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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8 of 14 ESA–Jürgen Mai

Wake-up call

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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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9 of 14 ESA © 2014 MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

First sighting

Rosetta's equipment made the first sighting of its target after waking up in March of this year. The comet seen from a distance is circled in the image.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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10 of 14 ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Almost there

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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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11 of 14 Comet: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam; Map data ©2014 Google, Bluesky

Comet 67P vs.Paris

This mashup shows the scale of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as compared with the layout of the city of Paris.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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12 of 14 ESA–C. Carreau

Circling, circling...

For the past few months, Rosetta has been obsessively circling and mapping the comet, as this still from an animation shows.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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13 of 14 ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Target in sight

After considering several candidate sites, this spot was chosen as Philae's landing site.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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14 of 14 ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Philae's new home

The newly named Agilkia landing site in all its glory. If all goes well, humanity will plant its flag here within a day of this writing. Getting chills yet? Follow along with us!

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

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