Stardust was the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to returning extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon. It collected samples from Comet Wild 2 and interstellar dust. Launched in 1999, it returned to Earth seven years later, parachuting to a landing in the Utah desert in 2006.
The Stardust return system has six major components: a heat shield, back shell, sample canister, sample collector grids, parachute system, and avionics. The canister containing the samples was sealed in an exterior shell that protected them from the heat of reentering Earth's atmosphere. The material Stardust returned may date from the formation of the solar system. Scientific studies of the samples are altering our understanding of the universe. One major discovery is that ice-rich comets, the coldest and most distant bodies in the solar system, also contain fragments of materials.
NASA transferred Stardust to the Museum in 2008.
Transferred from NASA, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.