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Arts & Culture

To Catch A Comet

Artist rendition of the ROSETTA Orbiter and PHILAE during landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. An illustration of what ESA and US scientists believe the comet may look like. The spacecraft, lander and comet are not to scale.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL
Artist rendition of the ROSETTA Orbiter and PHILAE during landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. An illustration of what ESA and US scientists believe the comet may look like. The spacecraft, lander and comet are not to scale.

Airs Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

A replica of the Philae Lander; Max Planck Institue of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
Courtesy of Darlow Smithson
A replica of the Philae Lander; Max Planck Institue of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
Dr. Paolo Ferri and Andrea Accomazzo; ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany.
Courtesy of Darlow Smithson
Dr. Paolo Ferri and Andrea Accomazzo; ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany.
Professor Mark McCaughrean, ESTEC - ROSETTA senior scientific advisor; Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
Courtesy of Darlow Smithson
Professor Mark McCaughrean, ESTEC - ROSETTA senior scientific advisor; Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
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Stephan Ulamec, PHILAE project manager, by harpoon-test target; Oberfaffenhoven, Germany.
Courtesy of Darlow Smithson
Stephan Ulamec, PHILAE project manager, by harpoon-test target; Oberfaffenhoven, Germany.
Dr. Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the OSIRIS camera on ROSETTA; Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
Courtesy of Darlow Smithson
Dr. Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the OSIRIS camera on ROSETTA; Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

"To Catch A Comet," a compelling documentary that details the complexities and challenges of the ten-year, four-million-mile journey of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Spacecraft Rosetta as it chased down and landed on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in a history-making feat this week, premieres Wednesday, November 19, 2014 on PBS.

The documentary -- which features exclusive, in-depth access to the ESA team at work over the entire year leading up to and including the successful landing -- will premiere with up-to-the-minute details and unprecedented footage from the Philae Lander on the comet itself.

The idea behind Rosetta’s mission was breathtaking as was the daunting list of challenges that faced the ESA team in its planning and execution. "To Catch A Comet" follows the international team of scientists and engineers who guide Rosetta through the last year of its ten-year trajectory across the universe: around the Earth, around Mars, and twice through the asteroid belt to reach its destination.

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In the nail-biting months before the landing, the team awakens Rosetta from three years of power-saving hibernation, manually navigates the craft through unexplored areas of the solar system, catches up to Comet 67P in a delicate cat-and-mouse orbiting dance, and releases a washing-machine-sized lander (named Philae) onto the comet’s surface.

The successful landing this week brings with it no less than the possibility of unlocking the secrets of the universe, according to ESA Senior Science Advisor Professor Mark McCaughrean, who is featured in the film alongside a cast of global science leaders. “We’re doing something unparalleled in spaceflight…by unlocking comets we hope to unlock the origins of the building blocks of life.”

Produced by Darlow Smithson Productions Limited in association with PBS, the "To Catch A Comet" film crew was at ESA mission control during crucial milestone moments in the past year, capturing scientific demonstrations and experiments that illustrate the challenges Rosetta and Philae faced. With remarkable production value, the film gives a complete backstory of the ten-year Rosetta mission, from inception, to intergalactic near-misses, to its eventual touchdown.

"To Catch A Comet" is a production of Darlow Smithson Productions Limited in association with PBS and National Geographic Channels International. Executive Producer: Iain Riddick. Producer/Director: Rory Griffin. Narrator: Corey Johnson.

Rosetta Mission is on Facebook, flickr, YouTube, and you can follow @ESA_Rosetta on Twitter.