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Stardust

Stardust was the first U.S. mission launched to robotically obtain samples in deep space and return them to Earth. On January 2, 2004, the Stardust spacecraft successfully navigated through the particle and gas-laden coma around comet Wild 2. During the hazardous traverse, the spacecraft flew within 240 kilometers (149 miles) of the comet, collecting samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of Wild 2's pockmarked surface.

The collected particles, stowed in a sample return capsule onboard Stardust, will be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis on January 15, 2006, when the capsule makes a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. The microscopic particle samples of comet and interstellar dust collected by Stardust will be taken to the planetary material curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center for analysis.

Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999, and reached Wild 2 after travelling over 3 billion kilometers (2 billion miles).

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