On January 15, 2006, the Stardust spacecraft completed one history-making mission and began another. Returning from a rendezvous with Comet Wild 2, the spacecraft approached Earth and jettisoned the capsule containing particles collected directly from the comet, as well as interstellar dust medium. The capsule landed safely and on-target southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, completing the world's first sample return from a comet.
This spacecraft then completed a record-setting extended mission: a visit to Comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011.
Comet Tempel 1 was the comet previously targeted by the Deep Impact mission, making Stardust-NExT the first-ever follow-up mission to a comet.
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On November 4, 2010 the EPOXI mission flew past Comet Hartley 2. EPOXI, the former Deep Impact flyby spacecraft, is comprised of two projects with different scientific objectives. DIXI, the Deep Impact Extended Investigation, continues the Deep Impact theme of studying comets by flying past Comet Hartley 2. EPOCh, Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization, used the Deep Impact high-resolution instrument to observe stars with known transiting giant planets to characterize those planets and to search for others.
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Building on Successful Missions
| Stardust |
This mission collected samples of a comet and returned them to Earth in 2006 for laboratory analysis. The spacecraft then completed an extended mission -- dubbed Stardust-NExT -- to Comet Tempel 1.
| Stardust-NExT |
Stardust-NExT revisited Comet Tempel 1, originally visited by the Deep Impact mission. Stardust-NExT studied how the comet has changed since Deep Impact, helping scientist better understand how comets evolve.
| Deep Impact |
In 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft released a mass over the surface of Comet Tempel 1. The impact excavated a crater and sent up a cloud of debris that was observed and analyzed, helping us learn more about comet composition.
| EPOXI |
EPOXI continued the Deep Impact legacy of studying comets by flying by comet Hartley 2. The information collected has helped us understand what features on comets are unchanged since their origin 4.5 billion years ago, learn what features result from the evolution of comet surfaces and understand diversity within the cometary population.