Sun, Jan 15, 2006
NASA's Stardust sample return mission returned safely to Earth
when the capsule carrying cometary and interstellar particles
successfully touched down at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time (3:10 a.m.
Mountain time) in the desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah
Test and Training Range, Sunday, January 15th.
"Ten years of planning and seven years of flight operations were
realized early this morning when we successfully picked up our
return capsule off of the desert floor in Utah," said Tom Duxbury,
Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif. "The Stardust project has delivered to the
international science community material that has been unaltered
since the formation of our solar system."
Stardust released its sample return capsule at 9:57 p.m. Pacific
time (10:57 p.m. Mountain time) last night. The capsule entered the
atmosphere four hours later at 1:57 a.m. Pacific time (2:57 a.m.
Mountain time). The drogue and main parachutes deployed at 2:00 and
2:05 a.m. Pacific time, respectively (3:00 and 3:05 a.m. Mountain
"I have been waiting for this day since the early 1980s when
Deputy Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Tsou of JPL and I designed
a mission to collect comet dust," said Dr. Don Brownlee, Stardust
principal investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle.
"To see the capsule safely back on its home planet is a thrilling
The sample return capsule's science canister and its cargo of
comet and interstellar dust particles will be stowed inside a
special aluminum carrying case to await transfer to the Johnson
Space Center, Houston, where it will be opened. NASA's Stardust
mission traveled 2.88 billion miles during its seven-year
round-trip odyssey. Scientists believe these precious samples will
help provide answers to fundamental questions about comets and the
origins of the solar system.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the
Stardust mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate,
Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and
operated the spacecraft.
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