we have wasted over $900 million on these two space probes. thats about $3 for every man, woman, and child in the USA. on probe checked out comet dust, and the other probe will check out pluto. somehow i dont think i got my moneys worth for the $3 the feds stole from me to finance these space probes
Craft with comet dust lands OK at Utah site
Alicia Chang Associated Press Jan. 16, 2006 12:00 AM
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah - For a split second during Stardust's white-knuckle descent to Earth, it looked like the space capsule carrying comet dust was in trouble.
Mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., could not immediately tell whether the capsule had unfurled its first parachute for landing.
Scientists held their breath as the ghost of the Genesis spacecraft replayed in their heads.
Two years ago, Genesis, carrying solar wind particles, crashed into the Utah desert, cracking open like a giant clamshell.
Stardust averted disaster and became the first space probe to return tiny fragments from a comet, Wild 2, which scientists think could be the leftover building blocks of the solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
Cheers erupted when Stardust opened its second, and main, parachute, guiding it to a pre-dawn landing Sunday in the remote desert.
"All stations, we have a touchdown," mission control radioed.
Unknown to engineers, the first parachute had opened, but it was too small for infrared cameras to see it, said Tom Duxbury, project manager of the $212 million mission.
After a seven-year voyage snatching comet and interstellar dust, the Stardust capsule pierced Earth's atmosphere at 29,000 mph, the fastest return of any man-made probe, and returned its precious cargo for scientists to study.
About 1 million comet and interstellar dust grains, most smaller than the width of a human hair, are thought to be inside.
The dust grains collected in 2004 are thought to be pristine leftovers from materials that formed the sun and planets. Some samples could be older than the sun.
Meanwhile, the Stardust's mother ship remains in permanent orbit around the sun.
The Stardust spacecraft was launched in 1999 and has traveled nearly 3 billion miles.
Piano-size Pluto craft ready for launch today
Mike Scheider Associated Press Jan. 17, 2006 12:00 AM
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An unmanned NASA spacecraft the size of a piano is set to lift off today on a nine-year journey to Pluto, the last unexplored planet in the solar system.
Scientists hope to learn more about the icy planet and its large moon, Charon, as well as two other, recently discovered moons in orbit around Pluto.
The $700 million New Horizons mission also will study the surrounding Kuiper Belt, the mysterious zone of the solar system that is believed to hold thousands of comets and other icy objects. It could hold clues to how the planets were formed.
"They finally are going! I can't believe it!" said Patricia Tombaugh, 93, widow of Clyde Tombaugh, the Illinois-born astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 at Flagstaff's Lowell Observatory.
Patricia Tombaugh, her two children and the astronomer's younger sister planned to witness the launch of the New Horizons spacecraft at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today. Pluto is the only planet discovered by a U.S. citizen, though some astronomers dispute Pluto's right to be called a planet. It is an oddball icy dwarf unlike the rocky planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and the gaseous planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
NASA has sent unmanned space probes to every planet but Pluto.
"What we know about Pluto today could fit on the back of a postage stamp," said Colleen Hartman, a deputy associate administrator at NASA. "The textbooks will be rewritten after this mission is completed."
"There's all this stuff going on there (on Pluto)," said Dr. Marc Buie of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. "It's that exploration of the unknown that is so fascinating."
New Horizons will lift off between 11:24 a.m. and 1:23 p.m. Arizona time today on an Atlas V rocket and speed away from Earth at 36,000 mph, the fastest spacecraft ever launched. It will reach Earth's moon in about nine hours and arrive in 13 months at Jupiter, where it will use the gas giant's gravity as a slingshot, shaving five years off the 3 billion-mile trip.
If all goes well, scientists will get their first close-up look into this planetary kindergarten in the summer of 2015, when New Horizons skips by Pluto on its way to other as-yet undetermined Kuiper Belt objects. But if New Horizons fails to launch before Feb. 4, the probe will miss the rendezvous with Jupiter, adding as many as five years to the mission.
Christian Science Monitor contributed to this article.