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From the "JPL Universe"
February 19, 1999

Stardust Now On Its Wild(-2) Ride

Spacecraft in excellent health after Feb. 7 launch

JPL's Stardust spacecraft successfully shot into a clear blue sky atop a Delta II rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station at 1:04:15 p.m. PST on Feb. 7 to become the first U.S. mission destined for a comet, and the first-ever spacecraft sent to bring a sample of a comet back to Earth.

Launch occurred following a 24-hour postponement due to a problem with telemetry data from a radar beacon on the Delta launch vehicle used to track the rocket as it ascends.

The Stardust team reported that the spacecraft was in excellent health and that its power and temperature levels were normal. The spacecraft is in communication with NASA's Deep Space Network, and is controlled through the mission operations area at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver and monitored at JPL.

"It's great to have the 'voyage' begun," said Stardust Project Manager Dr. Kenneth Atkins. "After the launch, Don Brownlee (Stardust's principal investigator, a professor at the University of Washington) and I made a 'pilgrimage' back to the launch pad. It was impressive to see that place where so much of our last three and a half years of work had been just hours before -- now empty. It was a moving experience."

Two very special guests attended the launch: Swiss astronomer Dr. Paul Wild, discover of the comet that is Stardust's destination, and American astronomer Dr. Fred Whipple, who lent his name to the Whipple shields that will protect the spacecraft from the hail of debris when Stardust collects its comet sample. Dr. Peter Tsou, who developed the aerogel for Stardust, hosted the two visiting scientists.

About 4 minutes after separation from the Delta's third stage, Stardust's solar arrays began to unfold and pointed toward the Sun. The spacecraft's signal was successfully acquired by the NASA Deep Space Network complex in Canberra, Australia, 51 minutes after launch at 1:55 p.m. PST.

Stardust is on a flight path that will deliver it to Comet Wild-2 (pronounced "Vilt-2" on Jan. 2, 2004. The spacecraft will gather particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. In addition, Stardust will attempt to gather samples from a stream of interstellar dust that flows through the solar system.

Captured in 132 tiles of a glass foam called aerogel, the comet and interstellar dust samples will be enclosed in a clamshell-like capsule that will be dropped off for reentry into Earth's atmosphere in January 2006. Equipped with parachutes, the capsule will float to a pre-selected spot in the Utah desert, where it will be retrieved and its contents delivered to scientists at Johnson Space Center in Houston for detailed analysis.

Last Updated: November 26, 2003
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