14 January 2006

Final Approach

Image Credit: NASA

The latest from JPL:

NASA's Stardust Passes Moon, Just Hours Away From Earth Return

Less than one day of space travel separates Earth and history's first comet sample return mission. Today at 9:30 a.m. Pacific time (10:30 a.m. Mountain time), the Stardust spacecraft will cross the moon's orbit as the craft makes its way toward Earth.

The final 400,000 kilometers (249,000 miles) of the mission to return a capsule containing cometary particles to Earth will take just 16 hours and 27 minutes. It took the Apollo astronauts about three days to make the same journey.

"Our entire flight and recovery team will be watching this final leg of our flight with tremendous expectation as we implement a precise celestial ballet in delivering our capsule to Earth," said Stardust Project Manager Tom Duxbury of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We feel like parents awaiting the return of a child who left us young and innocent, who now returns holding answers to the most profound questions of our solar system."

Prior to passing the moon's orbit, the spacecraft performed a final maneuver to place it on a precise path to reach its landing target on the Utah Test and Training Range. The burn, which took place yesterday at 8:53 p.m. Pacific time (9:53 p.m. Mountain time), took 58.5 seconds to complete and changed the spacecraft's velocity by 2.9 mph. At the time of the burn the spacecraft was about 706,000 kilometers (439,000 miles) from Earth.

Game on!

Reminder: NASA TV coverage of Stardust's return begins at 4:30 AM EST. Schedule (all times Eastern):

January 15, Sunday
4:30 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Commentary Begins (Capsule touchdown approx. 5:12 a.m.) - JPL (Mission Coverage)
7 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Videofile Feed - JPL (Mission Coverage)
7:15 a.m. - 9 a.m. - Stardust Capsule Return Commentary (Replay) - JPL (Mission Coverage)
9:00 a.m. - Stardust Post-Recovery News Briefing at Dugway Proving Ground - JPL (Interactive Media Briefing)
11 a.m. - Stardust Post-Recovery News Conference at Dugway Proving Ground (Replay) - JPL (Interactive Media Briefing)
12:50 p.m. - 1 p.m. - Stardust Reaction to Capsule Separation - JPL (Mission Coverage)
3:15 p.m. - 7 p.m. - Live News Interviews on Stardust with Don Yeomans - JPL (One-Way Media Interviews)

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