Welcome to the Stardust-NExT Mission
September, 2007—Need to go to a comet? Why not just reuse an existing spacecraft? A Discovery Mission of Opportunity, Stardust- NExT, short for "New Exploration of Tempel 1” is doing just that. A collaboration of NASA, industry and educational partners are continuing the journey of exploring comets with the hopes of increasing our knowledge and understanding of what they are. How do they compare to each other? And, do they change during the life cycle of their journey through our solar system?
The Stardust-NExT mission will provide the unique opportunity to compare particles analyzed from two different comets, Wild 2 and Tempel 1, using the same instruments and providing scientists the opportunity to compare two individual observations of a single comet taken before and after it has made one orbit around the Sun.
We invite you to explore with us as we go on our five-year – billion mile journey.
History of the Stardust Spacecraft
Stardust was the first mission to return extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon. Its primary goal was to collect samples from Comet Wild 2, an ancient frozen body that formed beyond Neptune. Launched on February 7, 1999, Stardust flew nearly 3 billion miles before returning a sample capsule to Earth. The 125 pound capsule landed by parachute in the Utah Test and Training Range approx. 73 miles south west of Salt Lake City, Utah on January 15, 2006.
The Stardust return capsule entered the atmosphere faster than any other man-made object. The samples were sealed in an aluminum canister encased in an exterior shell composed of ablative materials to protect them from the heat of
re-entry. Inside the capsule were a number of components including the sample collector grid, a parachute system and avionics.