Svetlana Gerasimenko, born on February 23, 1945 in the Ukraine, is a Soviet Tajikistani astronomer. When she started her PhD in astronomy at Kiev State University, she was fascinated by comets. After completing the Phd, she was offered a job at the Astrophysics Institute of Tajikstan Academy of Sciences, where she remained.

In an interview with the BBC she said
I decided that I would never be a teacher, because I saw how hard it was to teach. What iron nerves are needed. I decided to enter the physics department, nuclear physics, [which] was then very popular. But she did not pass the medical examination, due to problems with blood pressure. The requirements for applicants were as if they were not recruiting nuclear physicists, but astronauts. I didn’t think long and entered the Faculty of Astronomy. I've always loved looking at the sky. And I have never regretted my choice for a minute.

Interestingly, her one great discovery actually occurred in the first year of her PhD. She was the co-discoverer of comet 67P, along with her professor, Klim Churyumov. This was in 1969 on an expedition to observe comets, including one known to be visible. But they weren't expecting to discover any new ones. It was only when they returned to the university that an unexpected comet was discovered on Gerasimenko's photographic plates. Cool, yet not a really big deal.

But 35 years later, their old discovery became a Very Big Deal indeed.

In 2003, ESA – the European Space Agency – had a spacecraft ready to meet comet 46P/Wirtanen in the outer Solar System, and accompany it as it came into the inner Solar System and rounded the Sun. Unfortunately, a rocket failure meant the launch had to be postponed. That meant they wouldn't be able to catch up with 46P/Wirtanen. So the Rosetta spacecraft would instead be hunting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and travelling around the Sun with it.

Both Gerasimenko and her former colleague Churyumov were invited to the Rosetta launch in Kourou, French Guiana. The Ariane rocket which launched Rosetta can be seen in the background.

Mona Evans
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