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Date:         Mon, 10 Nov 1997 19:33:03 GMT
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From: Ron Baalke <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:      Public Invited To Send Names On Roundtrip Mission To Comet
To: [log in to unmask]

PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Contact: Mary Beth Murrill

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE           November 10, 1997


     Through November, NASA is inviting individuals to submit their
names to be etched on a microchip and flown aboard Stardust, a daring
roundtrip robotic spacecraft mission to a comet.

     The Stardust project, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, CA, is collecting up to 300,000 names by Nov. 30, 1997. The
names will be electronically etched onto a fingernail-size silicon chip in
the Microdevices Lab at JPL, where the Stardust mission is managed. The
collection of names is being coordinated with the assistance of The
Planetary Society, a non-profit space interest and education group based in

     Now beginning assembly and scheduled for launch in February 1999,
the Stardust spacecraft will embark on a five-year journey through the coma
and to approximately 150 kilometers (100 miles) of the nucleus of Comet
Wild-2 (pronounced "VILT-2"), gather cometary dust particles and deliver
them back to Earth.

     "This is a chance for people to take a vicarious trip to a comet
and back again," said Gloria Jew, coordinator for the Stardust mission's
public outreach efforts at JPL.

     Names on the chip will be so small that the width of the type
used measures 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair and can be
read only with the aid of an electron microscope. Names may be submitted
electronically to the Stardust web page at or
in writing, mailed to The Planetary Society, 65 N. Catalina Ave, Pasadena,
CA 91106-2301. Those submitting their names are granting permission for the
Stardust project and its partners to use the names submitted in possible
future exhibits and/or publications.

     Stardust will be the first space mission to gather dust and other
material from a comet and bring it back to Earth for scientific analysis. In
January 2006, an atmospheric reentry capsule housing the comet sample will
plunge through the skies over Utah and parachute softly to the Earth's
surface. A direct sample of a comet has been long sought by planetary
scientists because comets are thought to be nearly pristine examples of the
original material from which the Sun and planets were born 4.6 billion years

     Stardust's scientific bounty from its five-year voyage will also
include samples of the interstellar dust that passes through our solar
system. Return of this interstellar material will provide scientists with
their first opportunity for laboratory study of the composition of the
interstellar medium.

     "Stardust has 'double-barreled' science objectives to capture
samples of two deep-space phenomena, comets and interstellar dust," said Dr.
Kenneth Atkins, Stardust project manager at JPL.

     Both the comet and interstellar dust samples will be collected in
a special material called aerogel, a lightweight transparent silica gel, the
lowest density solid material in the world. (Aerogel was most recently used
as a lightweight insulating material to protect the Mars Pathfinder
Sojourner's electronics from the harsh, cold climate of Mars.)

     As a Discovery-class mission, Stardust is one of NASA's new
"faster, better, cheaper" missions. "Stardust also represents a reversal in
traditional exploration technique," said Atkins. "Instead of taking
expensively-packaged instruments to the target of interest, Stardust will
bring samples of the targets to laboratories on Earth where existing
instruments with the latest techniques can be used to examine them. This
saves money and provides opportunities for more investigators to

     Comet Wild-2 is a 'fresh' comet which was recently (in 1974)
deflected by Jupiter's gravity from an earlier orbit lying much farther out
in the solar system. Having spent most of the last 4.6 billion years in the
coldest, most distant reaches of the solar system, Wild-2 represents a
well-preserved example of the fundamental building blocks out of which our
solar system formed.

     Stardust is the fourth NASA Discovery mission to be chosen and
follows the Mars Pathfinder, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), and
Lunar Prospector missions. The goal of NASA's Discovery Program is to launch
many small missions that perform focused science with fast turn-around
times, cost less than $150 million (in FY '92 dollars) to build, and are
joint efforts with industry, small business and universities.

     The principal investigator for Stardust is Dr. Donald E. Brownlee
of the University of Washington, well-known for his discovery of cosmic
particles in Earth's stratosphere. JPL's Dr. Peter Tsou, innovator in
aerogel technology and maker of aerogel, serves as deputy investigator.

     Stardust is being built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver,
CO. JPL will provide the mission science payload that includes the optical
navigation camera and manages the overall mission for NASA's Office of Space
Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of the California Insititute of