Stardust Spacecraft

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The Stardust spacecraft returned the world’s first particles from a comet. Stardust was a NASA’s Comet Sample Return Mission.
Stardust encounter with wild2 comet

Encounter with Wild 2

About the Spacecraft

The Stardust mission spacecraft is derived from the deep space bus developed by Lockheed Martin Astronautics. This new lightweight spacecraft incorporates components, virtually all of which are either currently operating in space or are flight qualified and manifested to fly on upcoming missions.

The total weight of the spacecraft including the propellant needed for deep space maneuvers is 380 kilograms. The overall length of the main bus is 1.7 meters, about the size of an average office desk.

Stardust comprised a spacecraft and capsule. It completed a seven-year, 3-billion-mile journey in 2006. A tennis racket-like, aerogel-lined collector was extended to capture particles as the spacecraft flew within 150 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Carrying the collected particles, the capsule returned to Earth Jan. 15, 2006, landing in Utah. Stardust is a low-cost, Discovery Program mission for NASA’s Science Mission

Mission

Stardust mission was to collect samples of a comet and return them to Earth for laboratory analysis.

Discoveries

For the first time amino acid glycine was discovered in the samples in a comet. The scientists were surprised that this molecule could be detected in the tiny particles that were collected at such high speed. The discovery is important because it shows that comets must have delivered at least one amino acid to our planet before.

Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins.

History

The Stardust Spacecraft was launched 7 February, 1999 on a Boeing Delta II vehicle.

The STARDUST spacecraft encountered comet Wild 2 on 2 January, 2004 and collected samples of cometary dust and volatiles while flying through the coma at a distance of approximately 100 km on the sunlit side of the nucleus. The samples were collected in a special grid which was stored in a capsule.

The spacecraft then returned to Earth. The capsule with the samples detached from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth on January 15, 2006 and landed in Utah. Two days later, it was transported to a curatorial facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Scientists analysed the samples to learn the secrets of comet formation and our solar system’s history.

Did You Know?

NASA’s Stardust sample return capsule is on display at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, USA.


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