Jan 14 2006

Historic Moment In Mankind’s History

Published by at 4:00 pm under All General Discussions

We are about to live through a very historic moment in the history of mankind. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with politics and international friction.

Tomorrow (Sunday) the Stardust Probe will be bring a piece of the heavens down to earth:

A capsule containing a teaspoonful of dust snatched from around a comet is set to parachute to Earth on Sunday.

The material was gathered by the US Stardust probe in a seven-year, 4.8bn-km (2.9 billion miles) interplanetary voyage.

The US space agency Nasa hopes the mission will give scientists their first chance to study pristine samples from the birth of the Solar System.

It is very rare to have material from someplace other than earth to work with and study. Even debri on the earth is not pristine since it must survive a firery entry through our atmosphere. We have collected some samples from orbit, and of course the moon.

But this is the first sample directly from an interplanetary object – a comet. This is one of the still rare times we have gone out and brought something back.

Comets are thought to be cosmic “time capsules”, containing material unchanged since the formation of the Sun and planets.

Some even think they may have seeded Earth with the chemical building blocks required for life.

“The goal of Stardust is to collect the original building blocks of the Sun, the planets and even ourselves,” Don Brownlee, Stardust principal investigator at the University of Washington, Seattle, told reporters in Utah.

Even the descent back to earth is going to be a scientific spectacle:

When NASA’s Stardust sample return capsule fireballs toward a pre-dawn Utah landing this Sunday, ground and airborne observers are ready to record the spectacular sky diving, human-made meteor.

Much is to be gained by watching the capsule’s high-speed reentry. Insight can be gained on designing NASA’s post-shuttle craft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, as well as probe the delivery of organics for life’s origin by measuring the physical conditions of the capsule as it torches through the sky.

The Stardust “mother ship” is set to release its sample-containing return capsule on January 14 at 10:57 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST).

At that time the spacecraft is 68,805 miles (110,728 kilometers) from Earth. The capsule’s entry into Earth’s atmosphere will occur at approximately 2:57 a.m. MST on January 15, touching down at approximately 3:12 a.m. MST.

The 101-pound (46-kilogram) Stardust capsule is a speed demon.

When it slams into the atmosphere, it will be traveling at a blistering 28,860 miles per hour (46,440 kilometers per hour) – the greatest velocity ever attained by any human-made object on record.

Cherish this moment in time folks. This is another high water mark in mankind’s drive to achieve great things.

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