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accometare

to land on a comet

Last week a small landing craft (un piccolo lander) boldly ventured where no manmade creation had ever gone before. After a ten-year journey (un viaggio di dieci anni) millions of miles from earth, “Philaen,” created by the European Space Agency, landed on a comet (una cometa) zooming toward the sun.

Italians, who have been at the forefront of the international Rosetta Mission, coined a new word for the feat: accometare—far more precise than the alighting on land (atterrare) of a mere airplane. Italian's space-specific vocabolario (vocabulary) already includes the lilting words allunaggio for moon landing and tuta spaziale for spacesuit.

“Anche l’Italia sbarca sulla cometa” (Italy also disembarks on the comet), declared a headline in La Repubblica, noting that, through l'Agenzia spaziale italiana (the Italian space agency), university ricercatori (researchers) and the strumenti scientifici a bordo (the scientific instruments on board), Italy had made un contributo fondamentale alla riuscita della storica impresa (a fundamental contribution to the success of the historic enterprise).

For everyone involved in the project, Philean's complicated, nerve-wracking touchdown turned into “sette ore di terrore” (seven hours of terror). The small device–grande come una lavatrice, ma più intelligente (as big as a washing machine but more intelligent)—bounced several times on the surface of Comet 67P before settling into place.

With Philean’s first transmission, the centro di controllo missione (mission control center) erupted into lungo applauso (long applause). “Sorrisi, abbracci, e qualche lacrima” (smiles, hugs and some tears), a journalist reported.

Philean and the mission specialists communicated via tweets "in un dialogo personale, emotivo e divertente" (a personal, expressive and entertaining dialogue) — described in the Italian press as un nuovo modo per rendere più accessibile e comprensibile l'ultima fase di una lunga e complessa operazione scientifica (a new way of rendering more accessible and comprehensible the last phase of a long and complex scientific operation).

Here is part of the cambio (exchange):

    "Pronta a saltare?" (Ready to take off?)

    "Separazione confermata!" (Separation confirmed!)

    “Arrivano persino gli auguri del capitano Kirk di Star Trek, ovvero l'attore canadese William Shatner.” (The best wishes of Captain Kirk of Star Trek, or rather the Canadian actor William Shatner, also are coming.)

    After a long wait for a transmission: "Ciao Terra, bello tornare in contatto.” (Hello Earth, how nice to be in contact again!)

    “Mi sgranchisco un po' le gambe dopo oltre 10 anni…" (I’m stretching my legs a bit after ten years…)

    As the lander approached the comet: "Wow! Mi pare di galleggiare… 67P sempre più vicina" (I seem to be floating…67P is always closer)

    “Accometato! Ecco il mio nuovo indirizzo: 67P” (Landed on the comet! Here is my new address: 67P!)

    “Tocco una cometa e mi sento bene!" (I touch a comet, and I feel great!)

Words and Expressions

"Houston, abbiamo un problema” – “Houston, we have a problem"

assenza di gravità –- lack of gravity

lontano anni-luce –- light years away

conto alla rovescia -– countdown

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.