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'Sleeping beauty' spacecraft awakens after 31 months

PARIS--The European probe Rosetta woke up Monday after a 31-month hibernation in a nearly decade-old quest to explore a comet, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced.

“Hello, world!” ESA said on Twitter, mimicking the signal sent back from deep space by the billion-dollar unmanned craft.

The agency described Rosetta as a “sleeping beauty” that had emerged from a long sleep.

“It was a fairy-tale ending to a tense chapter,” it said.

Europe's most ambitious space mission, the craft was launched in 2004 on a trek of seven billion kilometers around the inner Solar System.

Its goal is to meet up in August with a comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and in November send down a lander to carry out experiments on the icy wanderer.

Comets are clusters of ice and dust which are believed to be remnants from the very birth of our star system.

Analyzing this primeval stuff should unlock secrets of how the Solar System formed — and possibly how life on Earth was kick started.

Rosetta was placed in hibernation in June 2011 as it was so far from the Sun that light was too dim to power its solar array.

Scientists on Monday had to wait more than eight hours before getting the precious signal, sent home from a distance of more than 800 million kilometers , to confirm that it had woken up.

Nerves were strained at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, until the all-is-well message showed up as a spike in a radio wave, prompting cheers and backslapping.

“This was one alarm clock not to hit snooze on, and after a tense day we are absolutely delighted to have our spacecraft awake and back online,” said Fred Jansen, ESA's Rosetta mission manager.

Unprecedented Mission

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A scientist of European space agency ESA stands at an airworthy copy of space probe “Rosetta” in the ESA control center in Darmstadt, Germany on Monday, Jan. 20.

(AP)

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