NASA's Comet Tale Draws to a Successful Close in Utah Desert
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.
Image right: Artist's concept of Stardust's sample return capsule on the ground. Image credit: NASA/JPL
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"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.
"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 accomplishment."
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.
For information about the Stardust mission on the Web, visit www.nasa.gov/stardust
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov/home
D.C. Agle (818) 354-5011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Erica Hupp/Merrilee Fellows (202) 358-1237/(818) 393-0754
NASA Headquarters, Washington