“Scientists catch a comet and land on its surface” is a headline from the realm of science fiction. Comets are „dirty snowballs“ made up of rock, dust, ice and frozen gases, cruising through the Solar System at high speeds. Little is known about their origins, but scientists suspect they were formed 4.6 billion years ago from the massive spinning cloud of gas and dust that formed our Sun and Solar System. As today’s comets are witnesses of these earliest processes, scientists have been interested in them for a very long time, but until very recently, the idea of flying to a comet and soft-landing on its surface was utterly unthinkable. This changed in 2004 when the European Space Agency launched its spacecraft Rosetta for a 10-year flight to meet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, a comet of 4 km in diameter, orbiting the sun at speeds of 135,000 km per hour. On 12 November 2014, after travelling a distance of 6.4 billion km, Rosetta’s lander unit Philae successfully touched down on the comet and sent its first data packages to earth. Andrea Accomazzo is the Flight Director of the Rosetta mission, a trained military pilot and experienced spacecraft operations manager. For mastering the highly complex task of guiding Rosetta to its goal, he was listed among Nature’s top 10 scientists of the year 2014. At Falling Walls, he explains how vision, planning, science and engineering took us one step closer to understanding the beginnings of life on Earth.
European Space Agency
The Italian Andrea Accomazzo is the Flight Director of the mission that took the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta probe to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. He ranks in the “top ten” list of the best scientists in the world, according to Nature 2014. Born in Domodossola, he became test pilot for the Italian Air Force and then graduated in aerospace engineering at Milan’s Polytechnic University. After spending several years working at Fiat Avio, where he followed the development of Vega and Rosetta projects, he joined the European Space Agency (ESA) as Spacecraft Operations Manager in 1999. Working directly for the Ground Segment Manager, he oversees the Flight Control Team of 13 engineers, analysts and controllers dedicated to Venus Express. Andrea enjoys living in Germany with his wife, who is a trained nurse. In his spare time, he visits the nearby Odenwald for hiking and biking.