NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly past Comet Tempel 1 on February 15 (4:00 UTC), which will be February 14 here in the United States. Stardust left Earth 12 years ago, an odyssey that has carried it past a comet, back to Earth, and on a course to a second comet under a new name – Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1). Because the spacecraft is carrying on board the names of more than a million inhabitants of Earth, the Planetary Society named its new Stardust contest with long road trips in mind: "Are We There Yet? -- Measuring Stardust's Cosmic Journey."
"Are We There Yet? -- Measuring Stardust's Cosmic Journey" invites people to guess how far Stardust and the names will have traveled from launch until closest approach to Tempel 1. The Planetary Society will accept guesses until February 15 (4:00 UTC), just before the planned flyby. Entries will also be accepted on Twitter, using the hashtag #stardustcontest.
The ten closest guesses will win. Along with fame and glory, each winner will receive a Planetary Society Stardust t-shirt and a goodie bag from the Stardust-NExT mission. Anyone of any age in any country may enter except the staff and family members of the Planetary Society and the Stardust-NExT mission. See contest rules for complete details.
"We hope this contest will help people everywhere appreciate the remarkable maneuvers engineers came up with for this second visit to Tempel 1," said Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society. "The Stardust-NExT spacecraft has taken quite a journey – 12 years so far."
Stardust-NExT is a low-cost mission that will expand the investigation of Comet Tempel 1 initiated by NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. The Planetary Society involved people worldwide with the Stardust mission in two different ways. Stardust@home invited participants to help find interstellar dust particles collected by the spacecraft, by examining "movies" of the aerogel collector posted on a website. The Planetary Society also sent the names of all its members at the time of launch aboard Stardust.