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After a 3 billion-mile journey to rendezvous with a comet, the Stardust return capsule joins the national collection of flight icons Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 50th anniversary of NASA. The capsule will be prominently displayed in the central Milestones of Flight gallery, home to many of the “firsts” of flight, including Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 and the Apollo 11 Command Module.
“The Stardust return capsule successfully brought back actual particles of comet dust for scientists to analyze,” Museum Director Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey said. “Now on display in the Milestones gallery, it will inspire the next generation of researchers to dream of new projects in space exploration. We are proud to add this significant craft to our collection and celebrate NASA’s accomplishments in the past 50 years.”
Stardust launched in February 1999 on a 3 billion-mile roundtrip to rendezvous with Comet Wild 2, capture comet and interstellar dust and return a capsule bearing these primordial solar system “treasures” for analysis here on Earth. Seven years later, the journey ended with the capsule streaking across the sky to a successful landing on U.S. soil in January 2006. Since then, the dust samples have gone to laboratories around the world for scientists to study the chemical composition of the comet and its signature of the early solar system. Stardust accomplished the first U.S. robotic sample return mission beyond the moon and the first collection of comet material for study on Earth.
The Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission team was awarded the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement April 3, 2008.