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Welcome from Principal Investigator, Joe Veverka

  Joe Veverka, Stardust-NExT Principal Investigator

Thank you for visiting our web site and for your interest in learning more about comets and the Stardust-NExT mission.

Stardust-NExT is an exciting mission of exploration that will tell us many new things about how comets work. It may seem strange that we are going back to Tempel 1, a comet already visited by the Deep Impact spacecraft in 2005, but there are important reasons for doing so. By revisiting Tempel 1 after it has completed another turn around the Sun we will, for the first time ever, be able to see how much the surface of a comet changes every time the comet passes close to the Sun. We will also be able to complete a key part of the Deep Impact experiment. Overall, the Deep Impact mission was a great success:  the Impactor collided with the comet producing an intense explosion which threw up curtains of debris and probably dug out a crater some two hundred yards wide. Unfortunately, the collision threw up so much debris that the main Deep Impact spacecraft could not see the crater through the obscuring ejecta. Stardust-NExT will take detailed images of the crater. For the first time we will see what fresh craters look like when formed on the fragile icy body of a comet. From the size and depth of the crater we will learn more about the mechanical strength of comets – information which could be useful in the distant future if it ever becomes necessary to destroy a rogue comet heading for a collision with Earth. 

Stardust-NExT is also interesting for another important reason: it has saved the taxpayers a lot of money. By re-using the spacecraft that already completed its successful mission to comet Wild 2, we can accomplish our goals for a tiny fraction of what it would cost to build and launch a new spacecraft. In fact, the cost turns out to be about 15 times less, or a savings of more than 300 million dollars!

Our mission employs the talents of a relatively small group of dedicated scientists, engineers, technicians and students. The team includes individuals ranging from students still completing their undergraduate educations to highly experienced veterans who have worked on NASA space programs since the 1960’s. We represent diverse institutions—universities, research centers and businesses – not only from across the United States, but in Finland, France and Germany as well.

We are all working hard to make Stardust-NExT a great success and to advance our understanding of comets and the solar system.

Joe Veverka
Cornell University Department of Astronomy