Watch the Rosetta Mission's Historic Comet Landing

11-12-14 Rosetta 1
A Rosetta mission poster showing the deployment of the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The image of the comet was taken with the navigation camera on Rosetta. ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

Just over a decade ago, in March 2004, the International Rosetta Mission launched an orbiter that would make its way through the solar system, crossing the asteroid belt and venturing into deep space.

The destination: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a comet that measures roughly 4 kilometers, or nearly 2.5 miles, in diameter, and is traveling up to 135,000 kilometers per hour.

On Wednesday, the orbiter, which has been following the comet since August, released a robotic lander that touched down on the comet's surface around 11 a.m. EST, or 4 p.m. GMT, making history as the "first controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus," according to the European Space Agency's (ESA) website.

Watch highlights from the ESA's coverage through the separation of the lander from the spacecraft:

"We have waited over 10 years for this day, but with the comet being over 317 million miles away, all we can do now is cross our fingers and hope," Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysics Research Center at Queen's University in Belfast, Ireland, said in a statement released by the university. Fitzsimmons has been studying 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Earth for years. "The Rosetta mission realizes the ambition of mankind to explore our origins and discover what is out there," he says.

The mission has the potential to reveal important information about the formation of the Earth and its life forms.

"Comet impacts are thought to have been one of the principal means by which water was delivered to the early Earth, around 3.6 billion years ago, possibly contributing half the water in our oceans. The other half would have come from the Earth's interior," said Stanley Cowley, a professor at the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy who has studied comets, including this one. "Furthermore, the comet material is also known to contain simple organic molecules which may also have seeded Earth with the material from which life emerged," Cowley said in a press release issued by the British university.

According to the ESA, previous research has shown that comets contain complex organic molecules rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, which are the building blocks of nucleic acids and amino acids, "the essential ingredients for life as we know it."

The name Rosetta reflects this aspect of the mission, harking back to the Rosetta Stone, a slab of stone covered in hieroglyphs discovered in 1799, which helped shed light on the ancient Egyptians' civilization and culture.

"Just as the Rosetta Stone provided the key to an ancient civilisation," reads an explanation on the ESA's website, "so ESA's Rosetta spacecraft will unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our solar system—the comets."

Watch the Rosetta Mission's Historic Comet Landing | Tech & Science