Comet probe regains eyesight before Earth flyby
Artist's conception of Stardust
(CNN) -- A comet-chasing probe experienced a marked improvement
in its vision this week, shortly before it was scheduled to swing around Earth, NASA scientists said.
The navigation camera aboard NASA's Stardust spacecraft had
malfunctioned for months after unknown contaminants fouled up its
But Stardust engineers managed to clear up the robot ship's
blurry sight by ordering it to heat up its camera parts, which
boiled off the blinding goo.
Tests last year revealed a problem with the onboard camera, which
takes pictures of stars to navigate the craft on a mission to
visit a comet. And photographic images beamed back to Earth
turned out much fuzzier than expected.
"The contamination might have been released with gases escaping
from the spacecraft after its launch," concluded the Stardust
team in a statement Thursday.
After heating the optical components of the camera, the team
re-tested the camera and received much clearer pictures.
The correction should allow the spacecraft to perform its final
navigation maneuvers when it approaches the comet, said the
Stardust engineers, who work at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, California.
Stardust regained its vision just in time for a close encounter
with its home planet, from which it was launched in February
The refrigerator-sized probe should fly to within 3,700 miles
(6,000 km) of Earth on Monday, giving it a gravitational
slingshot boost on its way to its final destination, Comet Wild-
2. Traveling at about 6.2 miles per second (10 km per second),
the probe should reach the ice chunk in 2004.
The $200 million Discovery mission is the first designed to
collect and return material from beyond the moon. The probe
should drop a payload of comet and interstellar dust particles in
a Utah desert in 2006.
By studying what Stardust returns, scientists think they could
learn if comets provided the water and organic material necessary
to form life.
Comets, possibly the oldest bodies in the solar system, could
contain a record of the original material that formed the sun and
planets 4.5 billion years ago.
NASA's Stardust mission develops case of blurry vision
September 12, 2000
Stardust spacecraft enters 'safe' mode; transmits first image from space
March 23, 1999
Stardust spacecraft heads for comet rendezvous
February 8, 1999
NASA aiming for Sunday launch of Stardust
February 6, 1999
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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