January 15, 2006 – Stardust spacecraft releases its return capsule

Stardust capsule returning from space
Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center

Excerpts from NASA documents:

NASA’s Stardust mission is nearing Earth after a 2.88 billion mile round-trip journey to return cometary and interstellar dust particles back to Earth. Scientists believe the cargo will help provide answers to fundamental questions about comets and the origins of the solar system.

“Comets are some of the most informative occupants of the solar system. The more we can learn from science exploration missions like Stardust, the more we can prepare for human exploration to the moon, Mars and beyond,” said Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“Locked within the cometary particles is unique chemical and physical information that could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from which they were made,” said Don Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Launched in 1999, the Stardust spacecraft has circled the Sun a total of three times overr seven years. On the way to its comet encounter, it collected interstellar dust on two different solar orbits. On Jan. 2, 2004, Stardust flew past the nucleus of comet Wild 2 at a distance of 240 kilometers (149 miles). During this close flyby, a special collector captured particles of the comet as the spacecraft flew through the coma, or cloud of dust and debris, surrounding Wild 2.

Stardust Sample report press kit (pdf)

The Stardust spacecraft is currently in an orbit that travels from a little closer to the Sun than that of the Earth to well beyond the orbit of Mars. It will next fly past Earth on January 14, 2009, at a distance of about 1 million kilometers (621,300 miles).

Stardust NASA web site

Watch a video of the reentry of Stardust on January 15th, 2006

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~ by tellinghistory on January 15, 2008.

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