Comet lander awakens from hangover, suddenly says hello

Technically Incorrect: Philae, the European Space Agency's comet-exploring spaceship, contacts Earth after seven months to say it's OK.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

The European Space Agency's Twitter depiction of Philae. ESA Rosetta Mission/ Twitter screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Sending up a comet lander is like sending a kid to college.

You have no idea when they'll call or even if they ever will.

There is great joy, therefore, in the space exploration community that Philae, the European Space Agency's comet-exploring spaceship, has suddenly sent back word that it's OK.

Like an modern piece of machinery, Philae has its own Twitter account. So in the early hours of Sunday morning US time, there was vast excitement to read this tweet: "Hello Earth! Can you hear me? #WakeUpPhilae."

This is the first news of Philae since it was dropped off last November on the Comet 67P by its Rosetta mothership. It took 10 years for it to get there. It took only 60 hours for its battery to run flat. However, now that the comet has moved closer to the sun, this appears to have recharged Philae's energies.

The European Space Agency's own Twitter account is brimming with giddiness. It first offered: "Incredible news! My lander Philae is awake!" This was accompanied by a lovely cartoon showing Philae stretch after a heavy night's drinking. (My spacey extrapolation.)

The ESA has also been communicating with the Philae Twitter account, sending caring messages such as: ".@Philae2014 Need to check you're fit, healthy and warm enough first @philae2014! Take it easy for now :)."

The latest bulletin offered by the ESA offers that contact was made at its European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany at 22:28 CEST on June 13.

Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec exclaimed: "Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available."

Philae communicated with the ESA for a total of 85 seconds. Historical data was transmitted during this communication, through which scientists gathered that Philae had been awake at some point before.

ESA scientists Mark McCaughrean told the BBC: "I think we're optimistic now that it's awake that we'll have several months of scientific data to pore over."

Philae's job, now that it has fully accepted it, is to send back first-hand information about what happens on a comet as it progresses through life and to learn more about the materials that exist on it.

One can only wonder what secrets will suddenly be unveiled and how long Philae will continue to stay awake.