Scientists Wake Up Space Probe Rosetta

Scientists discover the fate of a spacecraft emerging from a two-and-a-half year slumber

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Updated 1:50 p.m. EST

A comet-chasing space probe woke up from hibernation on Monday, after scientists waited an agonizing several hours for the craft’s signal to reach earth.

The probe Rosetta was switched back on at 11 a.m. GST for the final stage of its decade-long mission to rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft was powered down in 2011 to conserve energy, and scientists had been in the dark about the probe’s fate ever since. The European Space Agency said it received its first alert from the probe around 1:30 pm EST.

There was a chance that the scientists wouldn’t have heard anything from the spacecraft and would have had to reboot it. “We don’t know the status of the spacecraft,” Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at the European Space Agency, told the Associated Press before they made contact with Rosetta. “There is a possibility that we’re not going to hear anything. Two-and-a-half years are a long time. We’re talking about sophisticated electronics and mechanics. We’ve taken all possible precautions for this not to happen but of course we cannot exclude that problems may have happened.”

Rosetta was created to help scientists discover the composition of comets, and in doing so unlock secrets to the evolution of the solar system. The probe will reach 67P in the coming months and drop a lander on its surface in November.

This post was updated when the European Science Agency received its first signal from Rosetta.