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NASA's Comet Tale Draws to a Successful Close in Utah Desert


NASA's Stardust sample return mission returned safely to Earth when the 
capsule carrying cometary and interstellar particles successfully 
touched down at 2:10 a.m. Pacific time (3:10 a.m. Mountain time) in the 
desert salt flats of the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.

"Ten years of planning and seven years of flight operations were 
realized early this morning when we successfully picked up our return 
capsule off of the desert floor in Utah," said Tom Duxbury, Stardust 
project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 
"The Stardust project has delivered to the international science 
community material that has been unaltered since the formation of our 
solar system."

Stardust released its sample return capsule at 9:57 p.m. Pacific time 
(10:57 p.m. Mountain time) last night. The capsule entered the 
atmosphere four hours later at 1:57 a.m. Pacific time (2:57 a.m. 
Mountain time). The drogue and main parachutes deployed at 2:00 and 2:05 
a.m. Pacific time, respectively (3:00 and 3:05 a.m. Mountain time).

"I have been waiting for this day since the early 1980s when Deputy 
Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Tsou of JPL and I designed a mission to 
collect comet dust," said Dr. Don Brownlee, Stardust principal 
investigator from the University of Washington, Seattle. "To see the 
capsule safely back on its home planet is a thrilling accomplishment."

The sample return capsule's science canister and its cargo of comet and 
interstellar dust particles will be stowed inside a special aluminum 
carrying case to await transfer to the Johnson Space Center, Houston, 
where it will be opened. NASA's Stardust mission traveled 2.88 billion 
miles during its seven-year round-trip odyssey. Scientists believe these 
precious samples will help provide answers to fundamental questions 
about comets and the origins of the solar system.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Stardust 
mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed 
Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.

For information about the Stardust mission on the Web, visit 
www.nasa.gov/stardust . For information about NASA and agency programs 
on the Web, visit http://www.nasa.gov/home .
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