Stardust Logs A Decade Under The Stars

Feb 09, 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: Water fleas prepared for trip to space

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cosmic impacts might help synthesize organic compounds

Dec 12, 2014

Bullets of ice shot at high speeds can deposit organic compounds on surfaces they strike. The new findings suggest that comets might, indeed, have helped deliver key ingredients of life to Earth and perhaps ...

A close-up with a comet

Nov 11, 2014

Even as Tom Economou approached retirement age in 1994, he began planning an instrument for the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to a comet. He still remembers the reaction of Riccardo Levi-Setti, ...

A timeline of deep-space comet encounters

Nov 10, 2014

12th November 2014. That is the date in which Rosetta, led by the European Space Agency, will release its lander Philae to touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in outer space.

Recommended for you

Water fleas prepared for trip to space

3 hours ago

Local 'Daphnia' waterfleas are currently being prepared by scientists at the University of Birmingham for their trip to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be observed by astronauts.

The worst trip around the world

4 hours ago

As you celebrate the end of the year in the warmth of your home, spare a thought for the organisms riding with a third-class ticket on the International Space Station – bolted to the outside with no protection ...

Four Galileo satellites at ESA test centre

5 hours ago

ESA engineers unwrapped a welcome Christmas present: the latest Galileo satellite. The navigation satellite will undergo a full checkout in Europe's largest satellite test facility to prove its readiness ...

Funding challenges for Orion and SLS

5 hours ago

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of Congress, which exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and to help improve ...

User comments : 0

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.