Stardust Logs A Decade Under The Stars

February 9, 2009
Artist concept of Stardust-Next. Image credit: NASA/JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- Saturday, Feb. 7, marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of NASA's well-traveled Stardust spacecraft.

Launched on Feb. 7, 1999, Stardust , covered 3-billion-miles during its first seven years in space before returning the world's first samples from a known comet. Stardust's tennis racket-like, aerogel-lined collector was extended to capture particles hurtling at it at about six times the speed of a rifle bullet, as the spacecraft flew within 240 kilometers (149 miles) of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The return capsule landed Jan. 15, 2006, in Utah, carrying both interstellar and comet particles, completing the first U.S. space mission to return extraterrestrial material from beyond the orbit of Mars. Two days later the capsule was transported to a curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

With its prime mission complete, NASA re-designated the Stardust mission as Stardust-NExT. Short for Stardust-New Exploration of Tempel, Stardust-NExT is a low-cost, Discovery Program mission of opportunity that will expand the investigation of comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. The extended mission tasks the Stardust spacecraft to fly by the comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011. During the flyby, it will obtain high-resolution images of the comet’s coma and nucleus, as well as measurements of the composition, size distribution, and flux of dust emitted into the coma. Mission planners hope Stardust-NExT will provide important new information on how Jupiter-family comets evolve and how they formed 4.6 billion years ago.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages Stardust-NExT for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is the mission's principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, manages day-to-day mission operations.

While the Stardust spacecraft is unavailable for public viewing at present (it is more than 13.5 million kilometers, or 8.4 million miles, from Earth), the public can view its sample return capsule. In Jan. 2006, the capsule became the fastest manmade object ever to enter Earth's atmosphere at over 46,400 kilometers per hour (28,800 mph). The capsule is on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Milestones of Flight Gallery in Washington.

To learn more about the mission, visit stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

Provided by JPL/NASA

Explore further: NASA's Stardust sample return was 10 years ago last week

Related Stories

NASA's Stardust sample return was 10 years ago last week

January 18, 2016

It was less than an hour into the new day of January 15, 2006 (EST), when tens of thousands of miles above our planet, two cable cutters and two retention bolts fired, releasing a spring which pushed a 101-pound (46-kilogram) ...

Stardust spacecraft may have found cosmic dust

March 8, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first specks of interstellar dust may have been found by NASA's Stardust spacecraft during its seven-year-long voyage. Interstellar dust is believed to form from gas ejected from stars, which condenses ...

Stardust spacecraft adjusts flight path for comet meetup

February 2, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Just over two weeks before its flyby of comet Tempel 1, NASA's Stardust spacecraft fired its thrusters to help refine its flight path toward the comet. The Stardust-NExT mission will fly past comet Tempel ...

Two-timing spacecraft has date with another comet (w/ Video)

February 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Stardust spacecraft, equipped with the University of Chicago's Dust Flux Monitor Instrument (DFMI), is hurtling at more than 24,000 miles an hour toward a Valentine's Day encounter with comet Tempel ...

Recommended for you

Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation

December 9, 2016

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of over 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of ...

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

Khatyrka meteorite found to have third quasicrystal

December 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has found evidence of a naturally formed quasicrystal in a sample obtained from the Khatyrka meteorite. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.