This is an archived article.

June 26, 1998

Project Stardust Facts, Figures, and Timeline

News and Information


1929: Hoagy Carmichael publishes the song “Stardust.”
1974: Close encounter with Jupiter causes major orbital shift for comet Wild 2.
1978: Wild 2 discovered by Swiss astrophysicist Paul Wild on Jan. 6 during its first close approach to Earth.
1995:NASA selects Stardust mission to retrieve samples from Wild 2.
1999: Launch of Stardust spacecraft scheduled for Feb. 6.
2000: March through May, interstellar dust collection.
2001: Jan. 15, Stardust passes near Earth to get a gravitational speed boost.
2002: July through December, interstellar dust collection.
2004: Jan. 2, encounter with Wild 2; spacecraft will fly through comet’s coma, take pictures and collect dust samples.
2006: Jan. 15, spacecraft returns to earth; capsule containing comet samples dropped by parachute to the Utah Test Training Range; speed of 13 kilometers (about 7 miles) per second is the fastest for any re-entry vehicle.


Principal investigator: Donald Brownlee, University of Washington astronomy professor.
Miles traveled: About 3.1 billion.
Distance from Earth during comet encounter: About 242 million.
Spacecraft: Weight 375 kilograms (about 825 pounds), about the size of an average office desk.
Capsule: About 30 inches across and 20 inches deep.
Thrusters: About 1 inch long and 0.5 inch wide, they look something like a pawn in a chess game (Manufactured by Primex Aerospace Co. of Redmond, Wash.).
Camera: A spare from NASA’s Voyager program, it has been retooled for this mission but contains the original optics; a new camera would cost a prohibitive $25 million to $30 million.
Transmitter: A dish-shaped antenna about 3.3 feet across will send images of Wild 2 back to Earth (Manufactured by The Boeing Co., Tukwila, Wash.).
Solar panels: They will collect energy from the sun to provide electrical power to the spacecraft.
Assembly: Conducted at the Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver; continually updated pictures of the work can be seen at the Stardust home page.
Launch vehicle: A Delta II rocket made by Boeing.
Collaborators: The project is being done for NASA by the University of Washington; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., a division of the California Institute of Technology; and Lockheed Martin Astronautics.


Discovered: In the late 1930s, though scientists continue puzzling over its properties.
Manufacturing process: Supercritical drying is used to extract the liquid from silica dioxide gel (similar in form to a gelatin dessert); normal. evaporation would cause the gel to collapse, but in this process the gel keeps its form.
Density: The lowest of any known solid; one form is 99.9 percent air and 0.1 percent silica dioxide.
Strength: A block the size of a human being would weigh less than a pound but could support a car weighing 1,000 pounds.
Other uses: It is being considered as a non-flammable alternative to insulation and sound-proofing in walls and windows; it could be used as lightweight insulation in aircraft.