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More Than 600,000 Names To Fly On STARDUST
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More Than 600,000 Names To Fly On STARDUST
The Planetary Society
July 9, 1998
Planetary Society Member Names and Thousands of Others Will Fly to a Comet
and Back to Earth
More than 600,000 names will begin their journey to the stars when the
Stardust spacecraft is launched early next year.
The names of more than 100,000 Planetary Society members as of November 1997
are already on the spacecraft on a microchip that was attached earlier this
year. These names are now posted on line on the Stardust web site:
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has collected an additional 500,000 names in
an online campaign to gather one million names to be embedded onto a second
microchip. If you weren't a member of the Planetary Society as of November
1997, you can still make sure your name flies aboard the comet-exploring
spacecraft by signing up at the Stardust web site:
Stardust will be the first US mission since Apollo to return samples of space
material to Earth for analysis. Stardust's prime mission is to return a
sample of comet dust from comet Wild 2 to Earth in 2006. The "Send Your Name
to a Comet" effort has drawn attention from around the world as people
submit their names via the Internet. The deadline for name submissions is
August 15, 1998.
Miniature Veteran's Memorial
Among the names inscribed on the second chip are those listed on the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. "This almost will be like sending a
miniature version of the Vietnam Memorial into space as an eternal tribute
to those who fell in America's longest war," said Jan Scruggs, founder and
president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. There are 58,214 names
inscribed on the memorial, Scruggs said.
"We wanted to honor the memory of those who fell in the war," said Project
Manager Kenneth Atkins, himself a Vietnam-era Air Force pilot with the
Strategic Air Command from 1959 to 1968. "This is also an opportunity for
veterans, their families, and loved ones to create a special remembrance by
having their names united on this peaceful exploration of space," he added.
Included is the name of Air Force pilot Michael J. Blassie, whose remains
were identified and disinterred from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington
National Cemetery this past week.
The names are electronically etched onto a fingernail-size silicon chip at
JPL's Microdevices Lab. Writing on the microchip is so small that about 80
letters would equal the width of a human hair. Once inscribed, the names can
be read only with the aid of an electron microscope.
Remants from the Solar System's Formation
With the Stardust mission, University of Washington professor Donald
Brownlee, the principal investigator for the project, expects to find clues
about the formation of the solar system and perhaps the universe itself.
"We hope to understand how comets were formed and what they're made of," he
said. "We expect them to be the preserved building blocks of the outer
Brownlee began considering such a mission in 1980. The idea was explored
seriously five years later when Halley's comet approached Earth, but it was
deemed unworkable then.
For Stardust's 7-year, 3.1-billion-mile journey, solar panels will power the
spacecraft to encounter Wild 2, a comet that altered course in 1974 after a
close encounter with Jupiter. Now instead of circling among the outer
planets in our solar system, Wild 2 (pronounced vihlt 2) travels among the
inner planets. It was discovered in 1978 during its first close approach to
Wild 2's recent arrival to the planetary neighborhood makes the $200 million
Stardust mission possible. In 2004, the craft will pass about 75 miles from
the main body of the comet. That's close enough to trap small particles from
the comet's coma, the gas-and-dust envelope surrounding the nucleus. A
camera built for NASA's Voyager program will transmit
close-up comet pictures back to Earth. Though the encounter will last about
12 hours, Brownlee says the really intense activity will be over in a matter
Frozen Smoke: Aerogel
The collection system will extend from the spacecraft and trap particles as
they collide with it. To prevent damaging or altering the particles -- each
smaller than a grain of sand and traveling as much as nine times the speed
of a bullet fired from a rifle -- the collector uses a unique substance
called aerogel. Often called "frozen smoke," aerogel is a transparent blue
silica-based solid that is as much as 99.9 percent air. It is as smooth as
glass, something like plastic foam without the lumps. A block the size of a
person weighs less than a pound but can support the weight of a small car.
On the trip to Wild 2, the aerogel-equipped collection panel will be
deployed to trap interstellar particles traveling in space. During the
encounter with the comet, some 242 million miles from Earth, the opposite
side of the panel will gather bits of comet dust. Trapped particles will
leave a telltale trail through the aerogel that scientists will follow to
find the grains and extract them. Upon leaving the comet, the collection
panel will retract into its capsule.
Once the Stardust capsule parchutes into Utah's Great Salt Desert in 2006,
the particles it collects will go to Johnson Space Center in Houston and
then be parceled out to various research facilities, including the
University of Washington. Because comets are about equal parts ice and dust,
Brownlee believes the particles will be cryogenically preserved interstellar
dust left from the birth of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.
Such grains can be found only in the outer solar system, he believes,
because heat has destroyed them nearer the Sun.
Brownlee's previous work collecting cosmic dust particles led to their being
named Brownlee particles. Cosmic dust was brought back to Earth on Gemini
missions in the 1960s. Later, high-flying U2 planes and balloons gathered
particles from different levels in the atmosphere, and space dust even has
been collected from the ocean floor. "A comet mission is the logical
extension," Brownlee said.
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