In November of 2014, the Philae robotic lander made history by successfully alighting on the P67 comet.
Now, it might make history again, by becoming the first lander to become permanently lost on a comet. The Philae has stopped responding to signals from its mothership, the Rosetta, since July of 2015, and scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) are grim about the prospects of recovery.
“The chances for Philae to contact our team at our lander control center are unfortunately getting close to zero,” Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager at the German Aerospace Center, said in a statement on Feb. 12. “We are not sending commands any more and it would be very surprising if we were to receive a signal again.”
The concern is that with insufficient sunlight to power its batteries, the Philae might be stuck in a state of permanent hibernation, colorfully illustrated with this comic from the ESA.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) February 12, 2016
Still, even if the Philae is lost forever, it already has a host of accomplishments to its name.
After failing to fire its harpoons to steady itself on the comet, the Philae bounced off more than half a mile from its planned landing site, but still managed to achieve 80 percent of the planned scientific activities, such as taking the first pictures of a comet from above and on its surface and profiling the minerals and organic compounds on the comet.