Could we send a space mission to a comet? (Beginner)

I recall reading an Arthur Clarke novel titled "2061". The novel revolved around a manned mission to interface with Halley's Comet. How feasible is such a mission?

We have actually already sent a spacecraft to Halley's comet. During the mid 1980s Halley made one of its visits to the inner solar system and five spacecraft were sent to intercept it. The most famous was called Giotto.

Since then, we have sent several missions to comets. In 1999, NASA launched Stardust, which traveled through the coma (part of the tail) of comet Wild 2 and returned samples to Earth in 2006.

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft was launched in January 2005 and reached the comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. Deep Impact was the first mission to blast a crater in a comet and observe the results! The mission revealed that the comet was much dustier and less icy than expected. The Stardust mission will fly-by Tempel 1 in 2014 to photograph the crater, while Deep Impact travels on to observe comet Boethin sometime in the next decade.

Finally, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, launched in 2004, will orbit and land on a comet sometime in 2014.

Check out the links above for more information about these missions.

About the Author

Briony Horgan

Briony is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University, and uses orbital remote sensing of Mars and the Moon supported by laboratory and field work to investigate planetary surface processes. Her primary tool is spectroscopy, including both visible/near-infrared and mid-infrared. Briony earned her B.S. in Physics from Oregon State University in 2005 and her Ph.D. in Astronomy and Space Sciences from Cornell University in 2010. Her thesis advisor was Prof. Jim Bell (now at ASU). Her thesis was titled "Wind, water, and the sands of Mars", and focused on using spectral and morphologic characteristics of sediments in the northern lowlands of Mars to reveal past and ongoing interactions with liquid water. After her PhD, Briony became an Exploration Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, working primarily in the Mars Space Flight Facility with Phil Christensen. There she investigated the composition, spectral properties, and terrestrial field analogs of soils and sediments on Mars. The results of these studies will aid in constraining the habitability of ancient surface environments on Mars, and may have implications for our understanding of the early Earth. 


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