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Cool Facts

NOTE: A Spanish version of our Cool fact is also available.

1. Stardust is the first U.S. mission launched to robotically obtain samples in deep space and return them to Earth.

2. Stardust is the first NASA mission dedicated to exploring a comet.

3. Comets are leftover materials that formed of the planets and the Sun more than 4.5 billion years ago.

4. Comets contain many of the organic materials thought to be essential for the origin of life.

5. In the early Solar System, comets bombarded the planets, repeatedly and often.

6. The space object that struck Earth 65 million years ago, causing the dinosaurs to become extinct, may have been a comet.

7. Comet Wild 2, the destination of Stardust, almost collided with Jupiter in 1974, causing its orbit to be deflected closer to the Sun.

8. The Stardust spacecraft passes Comet Wild 2 at 13,000 mph (21,000 kph), over six times faster than a speeding bullet.

9. At this speed, a Whipple Shield - a stack of five sheets of carbon filament and ceramic cloths each spaced 2" apart - can safely protect the spacecraft.

10. It will take several hours to fly through the coma - the cloud of dust and gas coming off the comet's nucleus. It will fly through the part of the coma ahead of the comet nucleus.

11. Most particles from a comet are smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

12. Comet particles will be captured using a material called aerogel.

13. Aerogel is a special type of foamed glass, made so lightweight that it is barely visible and almost floats in air.

14. Comet particles make carrot-shaped tunnels in the aerogel as they are stopped. At the pointed tip of each tunnel a tiny particle will be found.

15. Less than one-thousandth of an ounce of cometary dust will be collected.

16. More than 1,000 of the particles collected will be large enough for complete scientific analysis, plus millions of smaller particles can be analyzed as groups.

17. Some of the powerful scientific instruments on Earth, used to study the cometary material, are more than 100 times larger and heavier than the spacecraft itself.

18. Scientists hope to collect more than 100 particles from a newly discovered beam of particles streaming into our Solar System from other stars in outer space.

19. By circling back to swing by Earth to get a gravitational slingshot out to the comet, Stardust uses a smaller rocket. This saves over 8 million dollars.

20. The spacecraft will travel 2 billion miles to meet Comet Wild 2, and another 1 billion miles to get back home.

21. During its 7 years in space, the Stardust spacecraft races along at an average speed of 48,000 mph (78,000 kph).

22. The return capsule will reenter Earth's atmosphere on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006, at 2:45 a.m. Mountain Time and parachute in Utah at the UTTR.

23. Comets have long amazed people. Since ancient times, myths of their origins and their effect on Earth have made us curious about them.

24. Stardust includes international participation. For example, a German instrument will analyze, as they are gathered, volatile ice grains and organic materials in comet particles.

26. During the comet flyby, giant 20-story tall antennas on Earth, called the Deep Space Network, will receive transmissions of pictures and other scientific data.

27. In terms of distance from the Sun, Stardust will travel well beyond Mars and over half the distance to Jupiter.

28. At the farthest distance, the solar arrays must generate enough electricity to operate the entire spacecraft with only 15% the sunlight intensity it has at Earth.

29. The Stardust capsule hits the Earth's atmosphere at 28,000 mph, faster than the Apollo Mission capsules and 70% faster than the reentry velocity of the Shuttle.

30. Stardust must endure five shocking events: launch, flyby, atmospheric entry, parachute snap, and touchdown, sustaining loads up to 100 times the force due to gravity.

31. Stardust is the first U.S. mission designed to return samples from another body since the Apollo missions to the moon.

32. The Stardust Outreach program includes premier educational and public programs: the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Space Explorers Inc., and the JPL Ambassadors Program.

33. You can learn all about Stardust, see its pictures and keep up to date by accessing its Web Site on the Internet at:


Last updated September 28, 2005
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