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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: http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/

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.

Question9. Do you have to quarantine the returned cometary materials?

The audio recording is 1:34 minutes

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Full Transcript (below)


9. Do you have to quarantine the returned cometary materials?(1:34 minutes)

Dr. Scott Sandford: "Certainly, whenever you are visiting another place, or bringing material back from that, you’re going to worry that you’re not cross-contaminating anything in some way. Now, in the case of the Stardust mission this is not quite as big an issue as it might be for like Martian sample return and the Moon rocks, and so on because the fact of the matter is the Earth collects – in the course of going around its orbit – literally tons of comet dust on a regular basis that simply impacts on the upper atmosphere. And the upper atmosphere has such a low density that much of this dust actually can enter the atmosphere without getting very hot. And so, the sample we’re bringing back on the Stardust spacecraft is ahh is negligible compared to the amount of stuff that rains out of the sky on us every day. The only difference in our sample is that it’s a known cometary sample from a known comet. So, scientifically, everything we learn from this dust can be put in scientific context with the parent body it came from. In the case of the stuff that’s falling out of the sky, we actually collect some of that using high-altitude aircraft, but that dust is a mixture from many different comets, probably from asteroids, maybe even some grains are entering the solar system from outside our solar system, so they’re interstellar grains, not solar system grains. All that stuff is landing on us all the time. So, if there’s anything bad in this dust, it’s had four-and-a-half billion years to work on us. So, ahh, in our case, that we’re bringing back this sample from a comet, but we’re not bringing back anything that hasn’t already been on the Earth for a long time. So, that means our quarantine issues are much more modest because we’re not introducing anything new."

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