Skip Navigation: Avoid going through Home page links and jump straight to content
NASA Logo - Jet Propulsion Laboratory    + View the NASA Portal
Search Stardust  
JPL Home Earth Solar System Stars & Galaxies Technology
Stardust Banner
Overview Mission Science Technology Newsroom Education Gallery Links Stardust Home
Comet Links
Small Bodies Links
Discovery Missions
OSS Forum
Educational Links


The implementation of NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin's vision of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" planetary missions. The program's prime objective is to enhance our understanding of the solar system, both historically and as it is today, by exploring the planets, their moons and other small bodies, either by traveling to them or remotely from the vicinity of Earth.

The first Discovery mission, Mars Pathfinder was launched in 1996. Pathfinder arrived on Mars on July 4, 1997, slowed in its descent by a system of parachutes and retro-rockets, falling freely the last few hundred feet, and bouncing on its inflated airbags over the Martian surface like a basketball. The airbags deflated, the petals of the lander opened, and the rover descended and began exploring and analyzing nearby rocks. The engineering design far exceeded expectations. Pathfinder's lander operated nearly three times longer than its design lifetime of 30 days, and the Sojourner rover operated 12 times its design lifetime of seven days. After sending back thousands of images and measurements, the mission ended on September 27, 1997.

NEAR Shoemaker was launched on February 17, 1996. The spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Eros on February 14, 2000, and began its year-long orbit of the asteroid to determine its mass, structure, geology, composition, gravity, and magnetic field. Eros is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids whose orbit will someday cross that of Earth's. These bodies are of interest because they contain clues to the origin and evolution of small bodies and the inner planets, including Earth. After a journey of more than two billion miles, NEAR Shoemaker gently landed on the tips of two solar panels and its bottom edge on February 12, 2001, at 3:01 p.m. (EST). The spacecraft snapped 69 detailed pictures during the final three miles (five km) of its descent, the highest resolution images ever obtained of an asteroid, showing features as small as one centimeter across.

Lunar Prospector, the third Discovery mission, launched on January 6, 1998, and was successfully placed into orbit 63 miles above the lunar surface five days later. The science data returned from Lunar Prospector has enabled scientists to create the most complete and detailed maps of the gravity, magnetic properties and chemical composition of the Moon's entire surface. Lunar Prospector detected large localized magnetic fields in the lunar crust, identified rich pockets of several elements, and returned data that seems to indicate large concentrations of hydrogen at both lunar poles, suggesting the presence of water ice. The spacecraft was purposely crashed in the South Pole of the moon on July 31, 1999, in an attempt to detect ice.

Launched on February 7, 1999, Stardust is the first space mission dedicated solely to studying a comet. For the first time ever, comet dust and interstellar dust particles will be collected during a close encounter with Comet P/Wild 2 and returned back to Earth for analysis by scientists worldwide. Stardust made three loops around the sun before its closest approach to the comet in January 2004. In addition Stardust collected comet dust samples from Wild 2 in 2004, all the samples captured in the aerogel collector were retracted into the sample return capsule. They will then be returned to Earth via parachute for a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in 2006.

The Genesis mission will send a spacecraft to collect particles ejected from the Sun, called solar wind, that may contain the answers. After launch in 2001, the Genesis spacecraft will journeyed a million miles sunward, unfolded its collectors and "sunbathe" for two years, and will return the samples to Earth in September 2004..

The Comet Nucleus Tour, or CONTOUR, mission launched from Cape Canaveral on July 3, 2002. Six weeks later, on August 15, contact with the spacecraft was lost after a planned maneuver that was intended to propel it out of Earth orbit and into its comet-chasing solar orbit. The investigation board concluded the most likely cause was structural failure of the spacecraft due to plume heating during the embedded solid-rocket motor burn.


The MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) mission is a scientific investigation of the planet Mercury. Understanding Mercury and the forces that have shaped it is fundamental to understanding the evolution of terrestrial planets. MESSENGER will orbit Mercury for one Earth year following two flybys of that planet. The orbital phase will use the flyby data as an initial guide to perform a focused scientific investigation of this enigmatic world.

The Deep Impact mission will send a large copper projectile crashing into the surface of a comet at more than 20,000 miles per hour, creating a huge crater and revealing never before seen materials and the internal composition and structure of a comet. his will be the first experiment to probe deep beneath the surface of a comet and will permit a variety of instruments, both onboard the spacecraft and at ground-based and space-based observatories, to study the resulting debris and pristine interior material.


Last updated November 10, 2009
Privacy F.A.Q. Contact Sitemap Credit
FIRST GOV + Freedom of Information Act
+ The President's Management Agenda
+ FY 2002 Agency Performance and accountability report
+ NASA Privacy Statement, Disclaimer, and Accessiblity Certification
+ Freedom to Manage
NASA Home Page Site Manager:
Aimee Whalen

Ron Baalke