It’s the time of year when those of a Christmas-celebrating inclination think about mysterious lights in the sky and where they might lead. Heavenly phenomena were high on the agenda for followers of engineering disciplines too, with the amazing feat of the European Space Agency in not only sending a probe to study a comet, but actually landing a robotic emissary on it. It’s been hailed as the most difficult landing in the history of space exploration and while it didn’t go exactly to plan, it still promises a wealth of new information about the formation of the Solar System.
In our Q&A feature this issue, the scientists and engineers behind the Rosetta probe and its lander, Philae, explain how they designed the mission and some of its main experiments, and express their hope that the lopsided lander might stage a dramatic resurrection as the comet comes nearer to the Sun and Philae’s photovoltaic panels receive more light.
The huge response to this Q&A shows why we continue to cover space. There are three main reasons. It represents optimism and hope — after all, launching a tiny probe towards an obscure lump of ice and frozen dust billions of miles away in the hope that it’ll land a decade later is one of the most dramatically optimistic acts one could imagine. It represents the quintessential human characteristic of curiosity and wonder: two things that everybody needs. And it depends strongly on international cooperation towards a common goal.
Elsewhere in the issue, we look at another subject that could be described as wonderful: the apparently coincidental development of several different types of exoskeleton, designed to help people continue in demanding physical jobs as they age, prolonging the time they can bring their skills to bear; and also to help those suffering from debilitating conditions or recovering from terrible injuries to regain the ability to walk and use their arms. Another story of hope for our readers to enjoy over the festive season.