MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Jane Platt (818) 354-0880
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 7, 1999
JPL'S NEW DEEP IMPACT COMET MISSION OK'D BY NASA
A radical mission to excavate the interior of a comet has
been selected as one of the next two flights in NASA's Discovery
Program, the agency announced today.
The comet mission, called Deep Impact, will be managed by
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, led by Dr. Michael A'Hearn from the
University of Maryland in College Park, and built by Ball
Aerospace in Boulder, Colo. The mission will send a 500-kilogram
(1,100-pound) copper projectile into comet P/Tempel 1, creating a
crater as big as a football field and as deep as a seven-story
building. A camera and infrared spectrometer on the spacecraft,
along with ground-based observatories, will study the resulting
icy debris blasted off the comet, as well as the pristine
interior material exposed by the impact.
"Comets are leftovers from the birth of the Sun and the
planets, and Deep Impact will punch through the dark crust of
P/Tempel 1 to give us our first look at what's inside," said JPL
director Dr. Edward Stone.
James E. Graf will serve as project manager at JPL. Graf
currently heads NASA's QuikScat mission to measure sea surface
winds over the global ocean, successfully launched last month.
Deep Impact will be launched in January 2004 toward an
explosive July 4, 2005 encounter with P/Tempel 1. Those impacts
will occur at an approximate speed of 10 kilometers per second
(22,300 mph). The total cost of Deep Impact to NASA is $240
NASA also today announced the selection of another new
Discovery mission, one that will map the pockmarked surface of
Mercury. That spacecraft, to be built and managed by the Johns
Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD, is
known as Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and
Ranging mission, or Messenger.
"These low-cost missions are both fantastic examples of the
creativity of the space science community," said Dr. Edward
Weiler, associate administrator for space science at NASA
Headquarters in Washington, DC. "Deep Impact presents a special
chance to do some truly unique science, and it is a direct
complement to the other two comet missions already in the
Those missions, both managed by JPL, are Stardust, launched
in February 1999 on a journey to gather samples of comet dust and
return them to Earth, and the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) that
will launch in June 2002 and fly closely by three comets.
Another Discovery mission managed by JPL was Mars
Pathfinder, which landed successfully on the red planet in 1997,
accompanied by a small robotic rover named Sojourner. The
Pathfinder mission returned hundreds of images and thousands of
measurements of the Martian environment.
In this latest round of Discovery missions, NASA selected
Deep Impact and Messenger from 26 proposals made in early 1998.
The missions must be ready for launch no later than Sept. 30,
2004, within the Discovery Program's development cost cap of $190
million in fiscal 1999 dollars over 36 months and a total mission
cost of $299 million. The Discovery Program emphasizes lower-
cost, highly focused scientific missions.
JPL will manage the Deep Impact mission for NASA's Office of
Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.