Goals: Stardust was originally designed to capture comet dust and pre-solar interstellar materials in a special collector grid and return them safely to Earth. After its successful encounter with comet Wild 2, the spacecraft was retargeted as part of a Mission of Opportunity to study comet Tempel 1 -- the Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel) mission.

Accomplishments: On 2 January 2004, Stardust flew within 236 km of comet Wild 2 and captured thousands of particles in its aerogel collector. It then returned those samples to Earth inside an Apollo-like capsule in January 2006 -- the first collection of extraterrestrial samples from beyond the orbit of the Moon. The samples, primordial material from a cometary nucleus, unchanged since the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago, produced a wealth of scientific data. The mission revealed comets were more complex than previously thought and carried with them the basic building blocks of life.

NASA retasked the spacecraft to perform a bonus mission to fly past comet Tempel 1 to collect images and other scientific data. Stardust traveled about 21 million km (13 million miles) in its journey about the sun in the weeks following the comet Tempel 1 flyby, making the grand total from launch to its final rocket burn about 5.69 billion km (3.54 billion miles).

The spacecraft also made a close flyby of asteroid Annefrank. Stardust's encounter with asteroid Annefrank was used as a dress rehearsal to prepare for its primary mission to study comet Wild 2. The spacecraft made its final transmission to Earth on 24 March 2011.

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