Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust

Contributed by
Apr 12, 2011

On March 24, the NASA mission Stardust ran out of fuel and sent its last data to Earth. At 16:33 Pacific time the mission was officially ended.

Launched in 1999, Stardust became a wildly successful mission. It passed by the asteroid Annefrank, sampled the dust from one comet (Wild 2) -- returning those samples to Earth in a special re-entry container while the spacecraft itself flew on -- and looked closely at another (Tempel 1) to see the crater left by the Deep Impact mission.

It's always sad to see a mission end, but I like to also keep my eyes ahead. Stardust may be done, but Rosetta flies on, heading toward a rendezvous with a comet where it will deploy an actual lander. The Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit around the main-belt asteroid Vesta later this year as well. And, of course, MESSENGER is now orbiting Mercury and returning data.

We learned a lot from Stardust, and we get better with this endeavor of solar system exploration as a result.

And that's the whole point, isn't it?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Related posts:

- Followup: Deep Impact crater on Tempel 1
- Stardust snaps close-ups of a second-hand comet!
- A comet creates its own snowstorm!
- The return of Stardust
- Stardust@Home starts NOW

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