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Vibration testing

Solar wings

Pre-launch lander

Destination seen from home

Lift-off!

Mars below

Asteroid encounter

Wake-up call

First sighting

Almost there

Comet 67P vs.Paris

Circling, circling...

Target in sight

Philae's new home

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA/A.Van Der Geest

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA-Service Optique CSG

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

Caption by / Photo by 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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

Caption by / Photo by ESA/CNES/ARIANESPACE-Service Optique CSG

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

Caption by / Photo by CIVA / Philae / ESA Rosetta

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

Caption by / Photo by 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.

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

Caption by / Photo by ESA–Jürgen Mai

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA © 2014 MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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

Caption by / Photo by Comet: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam; Map data ©2014 Google, Bluesky

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA–C. Carreau

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

Related article: Rosetta mission makes space history

Caption by / Photo by ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

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

Caption by / Photo by ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
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