NASA's Stardust mission develops case of blurry vision
Artist's concept of Stardust
(CNN) -- Mission controllers plan to give a comet-hunting spacecraft an
eye exam Tuesday, making it stare at the stars in an effort to troubleshoot a case of blurry vision.
If the camera aboard the Stardust remains foggy, the NASA probe should
still perform its primary task, collecting and returning samples from
the tail of a comet, but it may have trouble taking pictures of the
comet nucleus, project scientists said.
Engineers first detected a mysterious substance on the camera's optics
several months ago. They turned on a probe heater in an attempt to
clear the debris, raising the temperature from a frosty -35 C (-31 F) to a toasty 8 C (47 F).
Stardust took pictures of a small calibration lamp in front of the lens
to test its vision during the weeklong roast. The images, beamed to
Earth last week, showed that the refrigerator-sized ship still suffered
from fuzzy vision, although the blurring changed from image to image as the temperature progressed.
| MESSAGE BOARD|
Engineers in charge of the $200 million mission, the first dedicated
to studying a comet, hope to find out exactly much how the vision has changed
by pointing the camera at the stars.
Managers will study the new images when they arrive in late September and
come up with a prescription, which could include more induced fevers.
Stardust managers would use heaters to raise the temperature of one or more optical surfaces possibly coated with the goo. One is out of reach of the craft's heaters but direct sunlight could do the trick, said the project manager.
"We believe we can boil this off with heat," Thomas Duxbury said. "I don't feel overly confident that we will make it perfect again. I have some confidence that we will improve it."
Although the nature of the optic gunk remains unknown, project managers
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory suspect volatile materials coming
from the spacecraft after it departed Earth in February 1999.
"Since the camera was the coldest part of the spacecraft shortly after
launch, it would tend to act almost like flypaper," said mission
engineers in a September 6 status report.
In 2006, Stardust is scheduled to become the first spacecraft to return to Earth
with material from beyond the moon. It is expected to deliver
microscopic samples from Comet Wild-2, which it will swoop near in
2004, as well as interstellar particles captured near the asteroid
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February 8, 1999
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February 5, 1999
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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