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Billows of exhaust roll across Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, as the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the Stardust spacecraft launches on time. At left is the mobile launch tower. After a 24-hour postponement, the rocket lifted off at 4:04:15 p.m. EST. Stardust is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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The Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the Stardust spacecraft waits for launch at Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station. The targeted launch time is 4:06 p.m. EST. Stardust is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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At Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, workers check the lower fittings of the fairing installed around the Stardust spacecraft and upper stage of the Boeing Delta II rocket. Targeted for launch at 4:06:42 p.m. on Feb. 6, the spacecraft is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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Workers at Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, connect the third stage of a Boeing Delta II rocket (above), which is already attached to the Stardust spacecraft, with the second stage (below). Stardust, targeted for liftoff on Feb. 6, is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, workers check the mating of the spacecraft Stardust (above) with the third stage of a Boeing Delta II rocket (below). Targeted for launch Feb. 6 from Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, aboard the Delta II rocket, the spacecraft is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — Workers in the Spacecraft Assembly and Encapsulation Facility 2 (SAEF-2) make adjustments to the two antennas installed on the solar panel of the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft. Scheduled for launch July 1, 2002, from LC 17A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, CONTOUR will provide the first detailed look into the heart of a comet — the nucleus. The spacecraft will fly as close as 60 miles (100 kilometers) to at least two comets, Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. It will take the sharpest pictures yet of the nucleus while analyzing the gas and dust that surround these rocky, icy building blocks of the solar system. The Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., built CONTOUR and will also be in control of the spacecraft after launch

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — The NASA Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft arrived at KSC on April 24 and was transported to the Spacecraft Assembly and Encapsulation Facility-2 (SAEF-2) to begin final preparations for launch. CONTOUR will provide the first detailed look into the heart of a comet – the nucleus. The spacecraft will fly as close as 60 miles (100 kilometers) to at least two comets, Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, taking the sharpest pictures yet of the nucleus while analyzing the gas and dust that surround these rocky, icy building blocks of the solar system. The Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., built CONTOUR and will also be in control of the spacecraft after launch, scheduled for July 1, 2002, from LC 17A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

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Billows of exhaust fill Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, as the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the Stardust spacecraft launches on time. After a 24-hour postponement, the rocket lifted off at 4:04:15 p.m. EST. Stardust is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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The protective canister is removed from around the Stardust spacecraft at Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station. Preparations continue for liftoff of the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying Stardust on Feb. 6. Stardust is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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At Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, the Stardust spacecraft, attached to the third stage of a Boeing Delta II rocket, is lifted up the launch tower. The second and third stages of the rocket will be mated next as preparations continue for liftoff on Feb. 6. Stardust is destined for a close encounter with the comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Using a silicon-based substance called aerogel, Stardust will capture comet particles flying off the nucleus of the comet. The spacecraft also will bring back samples of interstellar dust. These materials consist of ancient pre-solar interstellar grains and other remnants left over from the formation of the solar system. Scientists expect their analysis to provide important insights into the evolution of the sun and planets and possibly into the origin of life itself. The collected samples will return to Earth in a sample return capsule to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006