MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
D.C. Agle (818) 354-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Erica Hupp/Merrilee Fellows (202) 358-1237/(818) 393-0754
NASA Headquarters, Washington
NEWS RELEASE: 2006-009
January 15, 2006
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.
"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. Mountain time).
"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
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 .