Halley's comet

Stardust -- an innovative space mission that will travel to a comet, grab a sample and return it to Earth for scientific analysis -- is the subject of this month's von Karman Lecture at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Thursday, October 15 at 7 p.m., and repeated Friday, October 16 at Pasadena City College's Forum, also at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.

"Stardust: Mr. NASA's Wild Ride to a Comet" will be presented by Project Manager Dr. Kenneth Atkins of JPL. The spacecraft, now in the final stages of completion, is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral, FL on February 6, 1999.

Atkins will provide a detailed description of the mission, its scientific objectives, and the design and development of the spacecraft. He will describe how the Stardust team plans to fly their spacecraft through the coma, or head of a comet, collect a sample, and return it to Earth for analysis. He will also detail the innovative opportunities the project offers to the public, educators and students to participate in the mission and share in the excitement of its engineering challenges and scientific findings.

Scientists have long sought a direct sample of a comet particle because these icy bodies are thought to be nearly pristine examples of the original material from which our Sun and planets were born 4.6 billion years ago. Stardust will travel into the cloud of ice and dust that surround the nucleus of Comet Wild-2 (pronounced "Vilt-2"), coming to within 150 kilometers (100 miles) of the nucleus itself. There, it will gather comet dust particles and deliver them back to Earth. En route to the comet, Stardust will attempt to capture interstellar particles that are believed to be blowing through our solar system. The mission ends in January 2006, when the Stardust sample return capsule will return to Earth and parachute to a designated landing spot in the Utah desert .

Stardust carries the names of more than one million people who contacted the project through the Internet. The names have been electronically engraved on silicon microchips, each about the size of a fingernail, that will fly onboard the spacecraft.

More information about JPL's von Karman Lecture Series can be found on the Internet at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/lecture/, or by calling (818) 354-5011. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.

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