NASA's Comet Hunter on Final Approach for Sunday Landing

artist's concept of Stardust nearing Earth Artist's concept of Stardust approaching Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL
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January 12, 2006

NASA's Stardust mission return capsule will land Sunday, Jan. 15, at approximately 2:12 a.m. Pacific time (3:12 a.m. Mountain time) on the Utah Test and Training Range. Stardust is completing a 2.88 billion mile round-trip odyssey to capture and return cometary and interstellar dust particles to Earth.

The spacecraft performs its last maneuver to put it on the correct path to enter Earth's atmosphere on Friday, Jan. 13, at 8:53 p.m. Pacific time (9:53 p.m. Mountain time). The speed of the sample return capsule as it enters Earth's atmosphere at 46,440 kilometers per hour (28,860 miles per hour) will be the greatest of any human-made object on record. The previous record was set in May 1969 by the returning Apollo 10 command module.

The capsule will release a parachute at approximately 32 kilometers (105,000 feet) and descend to the salt flats. Weather permitting, it will be recovered by helicopter teams and taken to a cleanroom at the Michael Army Air Field, Dugway Proving Ground, for initial processing.

Stardust launched on Feb. 7, 1999, and encountered comet Wild 2 on Jan. 2, 2004. It flew less than 241 kilometers (150 miles) from the comet's nucleus to capture tiny grains of dust. During the voyage, the spacecraft captured bits of interstellar dust streaming into the solar system from other parts of the galaxy. Scientists believe these precious samples will help provide answers to fundamental questions about comets and the origins of the solar system. Additional Stardust information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/stardust .

A synopsis of the mission's final hours is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/news/stardustf-20060112.html . A brief timeline is at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/timeline/index.html .

NASA TV coverage of the landing starts Sunday at 1:30 a.m. Pacific time (2:30 a.m. Mountain time) on the Public (101), Education (102) and Media (103) channels. NASA TV is available on an MPEG-2 digital C-band signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. In Alaska and Hawaii, it's available on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. For NASA TV information and schedules on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov/ntv .

D.C. Agle (818) 354-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Erica Hupp/Merrilee Fellows (202) 358-1237/ (818) 393-0754
NASA Headquarters, Washington

2006-007



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