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Space Probe Wakes Up After 2 1/2 Years, Will Be First to Orbit of Comet

A space crafted designed to orbit a comet woke up on Monday after two and a half years in a hibernating state.

Rosetta is the first spacecraft that will attempt to first orbit and land a probe on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Scientists from around the globe are eager to communicate with the spacecraft as final preparations take place for the ultimate rendezvous.

"We're quite pleased to see the inter-agency cooperation -- this highlights the fact that Rosetta really is a cooperative mission that would not be as successful if it were just ESA alone," ESA spokesman Markus Bauer said in a statement.

Rosetta will not begin to execute its mission until August and will not deploy the probe until November, but scientists wanted to have sufficient time to test the spacecraft.

"There is a lot to prepare for rendezvousing and landing on the comet," ESA scientist Gerhard Schwehm told "First we have to switch on and check that all 11 instrument packages on the orbiter and 10 on lander are working. Then we need time to track the comet so we can prepare our rendezvous maneuvers."

The researchers also want to study the comet as Rosetta approaches it in case certain parts of the comet are active. When a comet orbits near the sun, it gives off large amounts of gas that could be obstacles for Rosetta or its probe.

"We'd want to avoid getting too close to those!" Schwehm said. "Choosing a landing site for Philae will also take careful consideration, and then we have to finalize the commands to deliver the lander to the surface based on that selection. We certainly have plenty to do before we arrive at the comet in August."

Comets are said to be early remnants of infant solar systems and scientists have speculated that comets may be responsible for the water found on some planets. Comets also pose the same threat as asteroids do in terms of large scale devastation after a hypothetical impact.

"Over the millennia comets have actually affected our evolution," said Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at the ESA. "There are many theories about comets hitting the Earth and causing global catastrophes. So understanding comets is also important to see in the future what could be done to defend the Earth from comets."

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