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Stardust Curation Team at Johnson Space Center
Once the Sample Return Capsule is recovered at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR), its contents will be placed in the capable hands of the Stardust Curation Team - who are based at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).

scientist working in JSC curation lab
Image right: Scientist working in a JSC Curation Laboratory. Image credit: NASA/JSC.

This team will then go about the business of carefully transporting the aerogel containing grains from Comet Wild 2 and interstellar dust to their special facility at JSC for examination. The samples gathered by Stardust are expected to consist of approximately 1000 cometary dust particles measuring less than 100 =B5m each, and an additional 100 interstellar dust grains primarily of sub-micron size. The expected total mass of the sample will probably be 1 mg, less than a thimbleful.

For the Stardust Mission, both comet coma samples and the interstellar grains must be captured at high velocity with minimal heating and other effects of physical alteration. Particle collection at this speed has been extensively demonstrated in laboratory tests, Shuttle flights and on the MIR Space Station. Researchers have additionally shown that comet dust collection can be accomplished with minimal amounts of sample alteration.

The JSC team has developed exacting techniques for the removal and analysis of captured grains from the silica aerogel used as a capture medium. They will continue to improve and practice these techniques before the comet samples are placed into their hands in 2006.

For additional information visit the JSC Stardust Curation Team: http://www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov/curator/stardust .