With a dash of paint here and a blast of color there, a blank canvas was brought to life by two space-inspired high school students responding to an art assignment.

Answering the call of their art teachers to paint something that inspired them, Rebekah Sorensen and Sarah McCready, 10th graders from Meadow Creek Christian School, Anoka, Minn., created a 5-by-8- foot mural depicting NASA's Stardust mission, the first space mission to collect dust from a comet's tail.

"I think it's very exciting that Stardust could inspire something so beautiful," said Aimee Whalen, educational and public outreach manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "When I saw it I was so impressed!"

The students' masterpiece, created with acrylic paint, currently hangs on display at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The mural, divided into three sections -- Stardust's launch, its encounter with Comet Wild 2 and the spacecraft's rendezvous with Earth and release of the sample capsule in 2006 -- will be moved to JPL at the end of March, where it will hang for approximately three months. The laboratory then plans to rotate it yearly to various museums, said Whalen.

The students' work of art was also part of an exhibit display for the JASON Project 2000, one of Stardust's educational partner programs. It hung on display for three months at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn.

"The students and I thought it was such a privilege to have the mural hang at the University of Minnesota," said Dee McLellan, math and computer teacher and JPL Solar System Educator. "But when the Stardust Project Office at JPL was interested in displaying it, they just thought 'Wow!'"

Both students received $1,000 from JPL for their work. According to Whalen, the girls plan to put the money towards their college education. Sarah is looking into combining the fields of science and art in the future. "I hope that some of what we do here has helped to inspire her dream," said Whalen.

Stardust, launched in February 1999, just received a gravity boost on Jan. 15, as it made its closest approach to Earth at just over 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) above the southeastern coast of Africa. On Jan. 2, 2004, nearly 390 million kilometers (242 million miles) from Earth, it will encounter its final destination -- Comet Wild 2. The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. For more information and images of Stardust go to

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