STARDUST, the first NASA spacecraft designed to physically encounter an object of study and survive, dives into the coma of Comet Wild-2.

This virtual reality animation is based upon the three STARDUST Panoramas, commissioned by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech in Pasadena, California, that tell the story of the STARDUST Mission. The animation requires QuickTime 3 or higher. If you do not have QuickTime 3 installed, a QuickTime 2 version will be supplied. If you prefer, individual QuickTime 2 animations are also provided.

The orbit trajectory map to the left illustrates the spacecraft's course as it crosses the path of Comet Wild-2.
Take a moment to look around before entering the comet. Familiarize yourself with navigating in 3D virtual space and view the majestic environment that we are about to encounter.

Once inside, you will see the spacecraft at closest approach to the nucleus, gathering samples of cometary material with Aerogel contained in the extended paddle shaped sample collector at the rear of the craft. The Whipple Shields on the leading edge absorb and deflect potentially dangerous ice and rock particles, protecting the spacecraft throughout its historic journey.

Continuing on outside the coma, the spacecraft's protective shields exhibit the effects of the collisions encoutered as we sped through at 13,000 MPH. From here we travel back toward Earth, carrying our precious cargo. The return capsule will be spun up, released, re-enter our atmosphere and then parachute safely into the desert to be retrieved for analysis of the first comet samples returned to Earth.

  • Launch of the STARDUST spacecraft was completed on February 7, 1999 at 21:04:15 UTC from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Launch Complex 17A on a Delta II launch vehicle.
  • On January 22, 2000 Stardust successfully completed a three-part deep space maneuver designed to keep it on target for an Earth gravity assist in January 2001 that will propel the spacecraft toward its January 2004 rendezvous with Comet Wild-2.
  • Samples return to Earth January 2006.

    The STARDUST Partnership:
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory,

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    Lockheed Martin Astronautics
    University of Washington
    Imperial Earth/B.E.Johnson

Clues From Comets
Exploring Our Solar System's Origins

A presentation by Knight Ridder/Tribune

Learn more about the STARDUST mission and view the three major panoramas used to create this animation.


Correspondence is welcomed.
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