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NASA Stardust Status Report January 31, 2006

Status Report From: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2006

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Dr. Peter Tsou
Stardust Deputy Principal Investigator

January 29th marks the 2-week anniversary of the picture perfect landing of the STARDUST Sample Return Capsule in Utah. The first of four cycles of sample harvesting (removing aerogel cells from the comet Wild 2 flight tray) for our Preliminary Examination of returned samples reached its peak last week.

The pace of sample processing (removing and preparing the particles from the aerogel cells) has ramped up considerably. Six particles have been removed from the aerogel. Most of these particles were 'potted' in epoxy and the epoxy was then sliced into very thin wafers. Additionally, we've also separated particles along with their tracks in small pieces of aerogel.

Infrared spectroscopy has been performed on the removed particles, and half of one of the removed aerogel cell has been examined with a X-Ray beam from a synchrotron. The soil samples taken from the Utah landing site of the Sample Return Capsule are been examined for their chemical composition. One piece of the removed aluminum foil will be examined under a Scanning Electron Microscope to observe very small particle impacts. Some of the sliced wafers are being readied for a Transmission Electron Microscope to reveal the particle's mineralogy and petrology.

As more of these processed samples reach the hands of eagerly awaiting analysts around the world, the pace of Wild 2 sample analyses - the central focus of this Preliminary Examination - will accelerate along with the revelation of breathtaking results.

Stay tuned!

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