You can’t say NASA’s Stardust spacecraft didn’t give us its all. On March 24, 2011, it also burned up all its fuel after receiving its final command from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft may be quietly drifting through space now, but since its launch in 1999 until the 2011 “burn to depletion,” Stardust has been one very busy and very important research instrument. The distance it covered alone is astounding – over three and a half billion miles! And during that time it accomplished three ground-breaking missions: the flyby, image capture and return of particle samples from Comet Wild 2; the return of interstellar dust particles (our particular favorite); and the revisit (after the Deep Impact mission), image capture and other data return of Comet Tempel 1. Some of the major discoveries accomplished with the spacecraft’s help include evidence that the rocky material of comets coalesced within our Solar System (instead of prior to Solar System formation, as was previously hypothesized); that comets do indeed contain organic materials (in the form of amino acids); and that the nature of a comet’s surface may be more complex than we had originally assumed. But even though we are now out of touch with Stardust, the wealth of data it provided still promises some incredible finds, many of which we are quite sure will be unveiled through Stardust@home. We are thus grateful you are joining us in this search, and hope you join us as well as we bid farewell to Stardust, one extraordinary spacecraft!
To read more about the Stardust spacecraft, its incredible journey, and its amazing accomplishments, please visit the following NASA mission and news websites: