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Emily LakdawallaJuly 5, 2007

New Life for Stardust and Deep Impact

NASA announced on Tuesday that they have approved extended missions for two mothballed spacecraft, Stardust and Deep Impact. Stardust, which flew by comet Wild 2 in 2004 and returned samples to Earth in 2006, will be traveling on to visit Tempel 1, the comet that Deep Impact encountered last year. Stardust's is not the greatest camera ever launched into space but any camera is a good camera for the first return visit to a comet, as far as I'm concerned; nearly half of Tempel 1's nucleus was completely unresolved during the Deep Impact flyby, and the ejecta from the impact was so dusty that the spacecraft never got a good view of the impact crater it created so spectacularly. Hopefully the Stardust flyby will fill in some of those gaps. Deep Impact actually gets two investigations to perform during its extended mission. While it's on its way to an encounter with a previously unvisited comet, Boethin, which it will meet on December 5, 2008, Deep Impact will take advantage of the unfortunate blurring of its high-resolution camera optics to perform investigations of extrasolar planets. Now that's making lemonade from lemons.

While I'm pointing to updates on the website, check out A. J. S. Rayl's latest rover update, in which she covers Opportunity's impending toe-dip into Victoria crater, and this week's Planetary Radio interview with Dawn project system engineer Marc Rayman.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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Emily Lakdwalla
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