NASA depiction of Stardust approaching comet Wild 2
LAUNCH DATE: February 12, 1999
COST: $199.6 million (including launch)
OVERVIEW: NASA's Stardust is the first U.S. mission
dedicated solely to visiting a comet and represents the first
attempt to return extraterrestrial material from outside the
orbit of the moon. Its primary goal is to collect comet dust
and volatile samples during a planned close encounter with
comet Wild 2 in January 2004. The Stardust spacecraft will
bring back samples of interstellar dust, including the
recently discovered dust streaming into the solar system from
the direction of Sagittarius.
While in space, it will open like a clamshell, with the dust
collector grid deployed into the dust stream.
The spacecraft will make three loops around the sun. On the
second loop, the trajectory of the spacecraft will intersect
that of Wild 2. During encounter the spacecraft will send
back pictures of Wild 2, counts of comet particles striking
the spacecraft, and real-time analyses of the compositions of
the particles and volatile samples.
Stardust is to return to Earth with its celestial bounty in
January 2006. The dust will be aboard a re-entry capsule
about a meter in diameter.
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