Stardust was the first spacecraft to return a cometary sample and extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the moon to Earth. In 2004, the Stardust spacecraft made a close flyby of comet Wild-2, collecting comet and interstellar dust in a substance called aerogel.
Two years later, the samples made it back to Earth in a return capsule that landed in the Utah desert. The Stardust mission samples indicated that some comets may have included materials ejected from the early sun and may have formed very differently than scientists had theorized.
The spacecraft, which was still operational, was later recycled for the Stardust-NExT mission, which flew by comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011.
Feb. 14, 2011: The Stardust spacecraft, which had been recycled for a second mission called Stardust-NExT, flew by comet Tempel 1, marking the first time a comet had been visited twice by any spacecraft. (The Deep Impact spacecraft visited Tempel 1 in 2005 and released an impactor on its surface.)
- Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyzer (CIDA)
- Dust Flux Monitor Instrument (DFMI)
- aerogel collector grid
- navigation camera