Stardust, a NASA Discovery-class mission, was the first to return samples from a comet and from interstellar space. The Stardust collection of AstroMat encompasses analytical data derived from the samples from the Stardust mission.
The mission, launched on February 7, 1999, successfully encountered comet Wild-2 on January 2, 2004. As the spacecraft passed through the comet’s coma, a tray of silica aerogel was opened and exposed to capture coma dust grains. Following the collection, the aerogel tray was closed, for return to Earth. In addition to sampling the comet, Stardust opened another aerogel tray and exposed it to open space during the cruise phase of the mission.
The comet samples returned to Earth by the NASA Stardust mission provide a glimpse into the nature of early Solar System materials and the origin of the initial rocky materials that once filled the cold regions of the solar nebula.