It was just a simulation but the enthusiasm and anticipation were clearly evident on the faces of all involved. NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which collected particles from comet Wild 2 in January 2004, will complete its two-year, 708-million-mile trek back to Earth this January. The capsule will be transported to Johnson Space Center and stored in the Stardust Laboratory. The samples will be stored in the Stardust Laboratory and distributed to scientists who will make the first analyses of these particles.
Stardust recovery and science team members met at JSC the week of Oct. 3-7 to rehearse the steps that will be involved in recovering the samples from the Stardust capsule in January. A canister was transported to JSC and placed in the Stardust clean room. There scientists removed the Stardust sample trays and rehearsed techniques they will use to document, process and analyze the cometary and interstellar particles.
"The spacecraft recovery team and the mission science team were at JSC all week to shake down procedures for opening the sample canister and harvesting and analyzing the captured samples," said Mike Zolensky, Stardust co-investigator and NASA space scientist in JSC's Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate.
Once the Sample Return Capsule is recovered at the Utah Test and Training Range on Jan. 15, its contents will be placed in the capable hands of the Stardust Curation Team based at JSC. This team will then go about the business of carefully transporting the aerogel containing grains from comet Wild 2 and interstellar dust to the Stardust Lab at JSC for examination.
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