For ten years, Philae had been tucked under Rosetta’s wing while she performed a pair of trapeze like gravity maneuvers to swing in behind Comet 67P.
It had been a comfortable ride, snuggling warm and well charged by her, not needing to expend any of his own hydrazine for guidance. She had ample power from her majestic wings soaking up the rays from the sun, even while beyond the Goldilocks Zone.
He had wings too, but he kept them folded up tight until his scheduled debut on the stars’ stage in 2014.
His job was to settle on 67P as it passes near the sun, and relay what new findings about comets as he could, before his batteries were depleted.
“Yeah, I’m on a martyr mission. I know that. But, what an opportunity to expand Earth’s knowledge of the solar system,” he kept telling himself that over and over.
Earth was now just a dot in the star field of thousands. But Rosetta kept her antenna locked on home. She could sense his angst sometimes and would give a gentle refresh of his software with encouragement and enhancements from ESA control down in Paris.
But, as November of ’14 neared, he was suffering a little more than stage fright and homesickness.
Then he heard her. Cassini voice crackled the cosmos… and he was in love.
A CME blew over him, pausing his processor for a second.
Rosetta smiled and said, “Maybe she’ll be done with Saturn soon, and you can ride 67P out and get together for a long orbit past Neptune.”
Philae’s spirits rose and his preparations for descent became less stressful. He spread his tiny wings and locked his legs in place.
“A date. Maybe a date for eternity.”
Rosetta lined him up for a plateau landing, and gave him a farewell kiss. Then she thrust away as a mother would watch her first child board the school bus.
Philae drifted in slowly, keeping his balance with gyros, until a touch. “Oh, so gentile,” but not enough to release his anchors.
Another bump. “Upset the gyros.” Working, working…. until he steadied again.
Then a sudden stop. “What the Hell, a mountain?” Not soft enough to crumble. “It’s hard, and in a shadow?”
He called Rosetta, “Well, I’m down. Still working. The anchors failed to fire though. But, it’s dark… How’s Cassini?”
“She’s fine, but tend to business first, Philae. Give me your data.”
A hiss overwhelmed him as dusty gas gushed out of a nearby fissure.
He mused, I could send a cryptic message to NASA and convince them to break-off her moon survey and investigate elsewhere.
The gas abated as his comet bloomed a tail.
What could I say?
‘Cassini, wait to me!’
Oh… they’d think that was a spurious transmission from somewhere on Earth.
Rosetta said, “Philae, your data?”
“Sure, it’s dark. I can’t see anything.”
The gush had tilted his comet away from the sun, and he could now see Cassini’s solar wings hovering above the rings so far far away.
How about, ‘We’re watching you too!’
Ah… that’ll do it. They can’t resist an alien call. They’ll have to send her.
But a command from NASA, a puff from her thrusters, and Cassini dived toward the rings.
No, no sweetheart! That’ll crash you.
Fading eyes with his last milliamp, he watched her traverse the F-ring, float down to the yellow clouds, and in a flash, wink out of sight.