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Links to broadcast quality audio files and transcripts -- Dr. Scott Sandford, astrophysicist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was interviewed about the Stardust comet sample-return mission – humanity’s first opportunity to study the original material from which our solar system was built. Launched in 1999, the mission is flying to a rendezvous with the Wild-2 (pronounced VILD-TWO) comet in 2004 and is scheduled to return samples of cometary dust to Earth in 2006. The stardust mission is slated to be the first to return a sample from outside the Earth’s moon system. More information about the mission is on the Internet at:

This interview was posted on the web April 28, 2003. Sandford provided these comments prior to a talk he gave about the mission at Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, Calif. on April 23.

Question 5. How do you plan to capture the dust and keep it from being destroyed when it returns to Earth?

The audio recording is 1:20 minutes

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Full Transcript (below)

5. How do you plan to capture the dust and keep it from being destroyed when it returns to Earth?(1:20 Minutes)

Dr. Scott Sandford: "How do we capture the dust and get it back to Earth without it getting – you know – destroyed in the process? Well, it’s sort of a several step process. First of all, we have to collect it at the comet. And we actually pass the comet at fairly high velocity. It’s about six kilometers per second which is something like Mach 20, I believe. So, when we fly through the coma – the cloud of dust around the nucleus – we have to sweep up that dust with a collector. And as collecting medium, we’re using aerogel which is an extremely low-density solid. And so the particles, the dust particles, will hit this aerogel and punch a hole into it, and sort of come to a stop at the end of a track. So, it’s a little bit of like collecting BBs by shooting them into Styrofoam. And during that process the grains will be umm heated up to some extent, but not too drastically. Then, after we’ve successfully collected that dust in the collector, the collector folds down into the sample return capsule which is – again – shaped a little bit like an Apollo return capsule from the Moon shot days. And when the whole spacecraft returns to the Earth, it will release that capsule in such a way as it will hit the Earth’s atmosphere just the right angle, and will reenter the atmosphere the same way the Apollo capsules did, using an ablation shield. So, basically, we’ll kill the orbital velocity of the return capsule by burning away the outer part of the capsule, but the inside of the capsule stays relatively cool."

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