comet-bound spacecraft, Stardust, successfully completed a
critical deep space maneuver, positioning itself on a course
to encounter comet Wild 2 in January 2004 and collect dust
from the comet.

At 21:56 Universal Time (1:56 p.m. Pacific Time), January
18, Stardust fired its thrusters for nearly 111 seconds,
increasing the speed of the spacecraft by 2.65 meters per
second (about 6 miles per hour).

“This is the maneuver that sets us up for the bigger
maneuver. It’s a combination of increasing the speed of the
spacecraft and at the same time putting it on the path to
reach Wild 2,” said Robert Ryan, Stardust’s mission manager
at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It’s
like the setup pass in a basketball game. Now we’re ready
to shoot the basket.”

The spacecraft responded exactly as planned, said Ryan,
although communication was tricky. Stardust is currently the
farthest solar-powered object from the Sun, over 395 million
kilometers (245 million miles) away. The spacecraft’s
signal confirming it had completed the maneuver took almost
30 minutes to reach Earth.

In January 2004, Stardust will fly through the halo of
dust that surrounds the nucleus of comet Wild 2. The
spacecraft will return to Earth in January 2006 to make a
soft landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training
Range. Its sample return capsule, holding microscopic
particles of comet and interstellar dust, will be taken to
the planetary material curatorial facility at NASA’s Johnson
Space Center, Houston, Texas, where the samples will be
carefully stored and examined.

Stardust’s cometary and interstellar dust samples will
help provide answers to fundamental questions about the
origins of the solar system. More information on the
Stardust mission is available at .

Stardust, a part of NASA’s Discovery Program of low-cost,
highly focused science missions, was built by Lockheed
Martin Astronautics and Operations, Denver, Colo., and is
managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.,
for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is
a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena. The principal investigator is astronomy professor
Donald E. Brownlee of the University of Washington in