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Stardust gears up for comet flyby
Posted: Wed, Dec 31, 2003, 7:33 PM ET (0033 GMT)
Stardust spacecraft illustration (NASA/JPL) NASA's Stardust spacecraft is ready to fly past a comet on Friday, project officials confirmed this week. Stardust will pass about 300 km from the nucleus of comet Wild-2 on Friday at 2:40 pm EST (1940 GMT). The spacecraft has already entered the coma surrounding the comet, and has rotated itself so that the bulk of the spacecraft is protected by its Whipple shields, bumpers designed to dissipate the energy of any impacting particles. The mission, part of NASA's Discovery program of low-cost science missions, is designed to collect samples of cometary material as it passes through the coma. It will return those samples, along with samples of the interplanetary medium collected earlier in the mission, to Earth in 2006. Images and other data also collected during the flyby will be transmitted back to Earth shortly after the flyby.
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