PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary Beth Murrill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASENov. 10, 1997
PUBLIC INVITED TO SEND NAMES ON ROUNDTRIP MISSION TO COMET
Through November, NASA is inviting individuals to submit their names to be
etched on a microchip and flown aboard Stardust, a daring roundtrip robotic
spacecraft mission to a comet.
The Stardust project, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
CA, is collecting up to 300,000 names by Nov. 30, 1997. The names will be
electronically etched onto a fingernail-size silicon chip in the Microdevices Lab at
JPL, where the Stardust mission is managed. The collection of names is being
coordinated with the assistance of The Planetary Society, a non-profit space interest
and education group based in Pasadena.
Now beginning assembly and scheduled for launch in February 1999, the Stardust
spacecraft will embark on a five-year journey through the coma and to approximately
150 kilometers (100 miles) of the nucleus of Comet Wild-2 (pronounced "VILT-2"),
gather cometary dust particles and deliver them back to Earth.
"This is a chance for people to take a vicarious trip to a comet and back
again," said Gloria Jew, coordinator for the Stardust mission's public outreach
efforts at JPL.
Names on the chip will be so small that the width of the type used measures 10
times smaller than the width of a human hair and can be read only with the aid of an
electron microscope. Names may be submitted electronically to the Stardust web page
at http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/ or in writing, mailed to The Planetary Society, 65
N. Catalina Ave, Pasadena, CA 91106-2301. Those submitting their names are granting
permission for the Stardust project and its partners to use the names submitted in
possible future exhibits and/or publications.
Stardust will be the first space mission to gather dust and other material from
a comet and bring it back to Earth for scientific analysis. In January 2006, an
atmospheric reentry capsule housing the comet sample will plunge through the skies
over Utah and parachute softly to the Earth's surface. A direct sample of a comet has
been long sought by planetary scientists because comets are thought to be nearly
pristine examples of the original material from which the Sun and planets were born
4.6 billion years ago.
Stardust's scientific bounty from its five-year voyage will also include samples
of the interstellar dust that passes through our solar system. Return of this
interstellar material will provide scientists with their first opportunity for
laboratory study of the composition of the interstellar medium.
"Stardust has 'double-barreled' science objectives to capture samples
of two deep-space phenomena, comets and interstellar dust," said Dr. Kenneth Atkins,
Stardust project manager at JPL.
Both the comet and interstellar dust samples will be collected in a special
material called aerogel, a lightweight transparent silica gel, the lowest density
solid material in the world. (Aerogel was most recently used as a lightweight
insulating material to protect the Mars Pathfinder Sojourner's electronics from the
harsh, cold climate of Mars.)
As a Discovery-class mission, Stardust is one of NASA's new "faster, better,
cheaper" missions. "Stardust also represents a reversal in traditional exploration
technique," said Atkins. "Instead of taking expensively-packaged instruments to the
target of interest, Stardust will bring samples of the targets to laboratories on
Earth where existing instruments with the latest techniques can be used to examine
them. This saves money and provides opportunities for more investigators to
Comet Wild-2 is a 'fresh' comet which was recently (in 1974) deflected by
Jupiter's gravity from an earlier orbit lying much farther out in the solar system.
Having spent most of the last 4.6 billion years in the coldest, most distant reaches
of the solar system, Wild-2 represents a well-preserved example of the fundamental
building blocks out of which our solar system formed.
Stardust is the fourth NASA Discovery mission to be chosen and follows the Mars
Pathfinder, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), and Lunar Prospector missions. The
goal of NASA's Discovery Program is to launch many small missions that perform
focused science with fast turn-around times, cost less than $150 million (in FY '92
dollars) to build, and are joint efforts with industry, small business and
The principal investigator for Stardust is Dr. Donald E. Brownlee of the
University of Washington, well-known for his discovery of cosmic particles in Earth's
stratosphere. JPL's Dr. Peter Tsou, innovator in aerogel technology and maker of
aerogel, serves as deputy investigator.
Stardust is being built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO. JPL will
provide the mission science payload that includes the optical navigation camera and
manages the overall mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL
is a division of the California Insititute of Technology.