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The Amazing Gravity-Assisted Journey Of Rosetta

Seven years ago, I wrote this paragraph about Rosetta:

The Rosetta craft was launched from Europe's Guiana Space Center in early March of 2004; the purpose of the space probe is to place itself in low orbit around the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko at a distance of 675 million kilometers from the sun. To get there, the billion-dollar craft will spend ten years boosting its velocity (using the gravity assist technique) with no fewer than three flybys of Earth and one of Mars.

Well, time passes and through remarkable engineering excellence of EESA scientist, the probe is already on station at the comet, looking for landing sites.

Take a look at the path followed by Rosetta in one mind-blowing gif:


(Rosetta's amazing gravity-assisted path, in one gif)

I'm still trying to figure out who first thought of the idea of using a gravity assist to speed space craft through the solar system. The first scientists to work on it were Derek Lawden in 1954 and Michael Minovitch in 1961 at JPL. As far as I know, the first person to explicitly suggest that a gravity assist would work for spacecraft was science fiction writer Ray Cummings in his 1931 novel Brigands of the Moon.

We were at this time no more than some sixty-five thousand miles from the moon's surface. The Planetara presently would swing upon her direct course for Mars. There was nothing that would cause passenger comment in this close passing of the moon; normally we used the satellite's attraction to give us additional starting speed.
(Read more about Ray Cummings' gravity assist)

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