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  NASA Spacecraft Makes Great Catch -- Heads for Touchdown

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Author Topic:   NASA Spacecraft Makes Great Catch -- Heads for Touchdown
Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-02-2004 10:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote


Comet Wild 2 is shown in this image taken by the Stardust navigation camera during the spacecraft's closest approach to the comet on January 2. The image was taken within a distance of 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) of the comet's nucleus with a 10-millisecond exposure. A total of 72 images were taken of the comet during the flyby. More images, which may be of higher resolution and greater detail, will be transmitted to Earth on Saturday. Photo Credits: NASA/JPL.

quote:
Team Stardust, NASA's first dedicated sample return mission to a comet, passed a huge milestone today by successfully navigating through the particle and gas-laden coma around comet Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt-2"). During the hazardous traverse, the spacecraft flew within 240 kilometers (149 miles) of the comet, catching samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of Wild 2's pockmarked surface.

"Things couldn't have worked better in a fairy tale," said Tom Duxbury, Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"These images are better than we had hoped for in our wildest dreams," said Ray Newburn of JPL, a co-investigator for Stardust. "They will help us better understand the mechanisms that drive conditions on comets."

"These are the best pictures ever taken of a comet," said Principal Investigator Dr. Don Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle. "Although Stardust was designed to be a comet sample return mission, the fantastic details shown in these images greatly exceed our expectations."

The collected particles, stowed in a sample return capsule onboard Stardust, will be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis. That dramatic event will occur on January 15, 2006, when the capsule makes a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. The microscopic particle samples of comet and interstellar dust collected by Stardust will be taken to the planetary material curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, for analysis.

Stardust has traveled about 3.22 billion kilometers (2 billion miles) since its launch on February 7, 1999. As it closed the final gap with its cometary quarry, it endured a bombardment of particles surrounding the nucleus of comet Wild 2. To protect Stardust against the blast of expected cometary particles and rocks, the spacecraft rotated so it was flying in the shadow of its "Whipple Shields." The shields are named for American astronomer Dr. Fred L. Whipple, who, in the 1950s, came up with the idea of shielding spacecraft from high-speed collisions with the bits and pieces ejected from comets. The system includes two bumpers at the front of the spacecraft -- which protect Stardust's solar panels -- and another shield protecting the main spacecraft body. Each shield is built around composite panels designed to disperse particles as they impact, augmented by blankets of a ceramic cloth called Nextel that further dissipate and spread particle debris.

"Everything occurred pretty much to the minute," said Duxbury. "And with our cometary encounter complete, we invite everybody to tune in about one million, 71 thousand minutes from now when Stardust returns to Earth, bringing with it the first comet samples in the history of space exploration."

Scientists believe in-depth terrestrial analysis of the samples will reveal much about comets and the earliest history of the solar system. Chemical and physical information locked within the cometary particles could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from which they were made. More information on the Stardust mission is available at http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov .

Stardust, a part of NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, highly focused science missions, was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo., and is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


David Stephenson
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Posts: 290
From: England
Registered: Mar 2003

posted 01-03-2004 03:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Stephenson   Click Here to Email David Stephenson     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is preety impressive stuff.

Thanks for posting the photo and information Robert, much better than the snippets in the news.

David.

John K. Rochester
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Posts: 1273
From: Rochester, NY, USA
Registered: Mar 2002

posted 01-03-2004 06:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
.." and that, my friends, is how we do that."..Tom Hanks, Apollo 13. That is a great report Robert! A feather in the cap of all who have worked to make Stardust a reality. A success beyond expectations that is sorely needed right now. Hopefully another Huge success this evening as well.

spaceuk
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Posts: 2113
From: Staffs, UK
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 01-03-2004 10:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, thanks for posting that image. Great stuff Stardust Team.

So, my name made it to within a few hundred miles of Stardust - even better.

Anybody else have their names onboard the chip?

I attended launch of Stardust and sat on the bleachers with the Stardust teams so I am very happy to see it made it to its target. I'll be in Utah for its hopeful return.

Phill

Richard
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posted 01-03-2004 10:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Richard   Click Here to Email Richard     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's strange because I always thought Whipple shields were developed to keep him from squeezing the Charmin.

I wonder if we are going to start seeing "comet dust" samples on ebay.

DC Giants
Member

Posts: 133
From: Kansas City, MO USA
Registered: Jun 2003

posted 01-03-2004 10:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DC Giants   Click Here to Email DC Giants     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's an amazing photo - and a great accomplishment in space exploration!

Patrick

tegwilym
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Posts: 2284
From: Renton, WA USA
Registered: Jan 2000

posted 01-03-2004 02:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Now THAT is what a comet nucleus should look like don't you think?

Almost looks like that asteroid that Bruce Willis went out and saved the Earth from.

Tom

Rick Boos
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Posts: 828
From: Celina,Ohio U.S.A.
Registered: Feb 2000

posted 01-03-2004 03:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Phill, my name was aboard Stardust as well. Also on the Mars missions and others. Great coverage Robert!

Rick

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