Nov 24, 2014
On November 12th, 300 million miles from the earth, the Rosetta space probe launched the Philae module onto the Churymov-Gerisemenko comet. This achievement was due to the work of hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians from several European laboratories and institutes. It shows what humans are capable of, especially when their work is freed from the law of profit and their collaboration isn’t hindered by national boundaries
This isn’t the first time that a space probe has flown by a comet. In 1986, probes were sent to meet Halley’s comet and to photograph it from close up. But that encounter only lasted a few hours. This time, the Rosetta probe, sent into space in March of 2004, traveled more than three billion miles. That is four times the distance the earth takes around the sun, and it took ten years to get close to the comet.
During this long trip, instruments designed and built with technology at least 15 years old were put to sleep to save energy. And scientists cut all contact with the craft when it was furthest from the earth. Two and half years later, on January 6th, 2014, they reestablished contact at a place chosen in advance.
In order to prepare the launch of the Philae module to study the comet surface, Rosetta was set in orbit around the three mile long comet. After figuring out the best place to launch Philae, the Rosetta probe descended 12 miles to the comet in seven hours.
Once it landed on the comet, instruments aboard Philae took samples from the comet and sent the results to earth, obtaining a lot of information.
Like all comets, Churymov-Gerisemenko has gone around the sun since the beginning of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. The study of this data increases the knowledge of matter at the origin of the solar system. Maybe it will discover that complex molecules playing a role in development of life on earth were already present in the comet.
Each new scientific achievement shows what humanity is capable of. Accumulated knowledge and continuously deepening scientific understanding allow us to envision still more exceptional possibilities. Referring to the centennial of World War I, the astrophysicist André Brahic said at the launching of Philae: “2014 is so much better than 1914.”
It’s true that in 100 years science has continuously advanced, but we can’t say the same thing about society. In many ways other than purely scientific, 2014 resembles 1914. In relation to scientific progress, the defects of society are all the more revolting.
Why is it possible on the one hand to plan more than ten years in advance the meeting with a comet more than 300 million miles away, yet impossible to plan the construction of housing for all, the production of medicine and food to avoid epidemics and famine? Why such an accomplishment in one domain and negligence in another?
The problem isn’t technological, but a problem of social organization. In this capitalist society, all or almost all is submitted to the law of profit, which benefits a tiny minority but harms the immense majority. Inasmuch as this law dominates, rather than a rational organization of society planned according to human needs, the greatest scientific discoveries continue side by side with the worst barbarism.