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After a 24-hour postponement, the Boeing Delta II rocket carrying the Stardust spacecraft waits on Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station, for its scheduled launch at 4:04 p.m. EST. Umbilical lines (at top) still attached to the fixed utility tower (at right) feed electricity, air conditioning and coolants for the Stardust spacecraft inside the fairing (enclosing the upper stage) before launch. 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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In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, Casey McClellan (left) and Denise Kato (right), with Lockheed Martin, prepare the spacecraft Stardust for a media presentation. Stardust is targeted for launch on Feb. 6 aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station. 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 (the white-topped, blunt-nosed cone seen on the top of the spacecraft) to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

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In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, Casey McClellan (right), with Lockheed Martin, and an unidentified worker look over the spacecraft Stardust before a media presentation. Stardust is targeted for launch on Feb. 6 aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Launch Pad 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Station. 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 (the white-topped, blunt-nosed cone seen on the top of the spacecraft) to be jettisoned as Stardust swings by Earth in January 2006

A Meandering Channel on Hellas Rim

The central portion of this image features a mildly-winding depression that was carved by water, likely around four billion years ago shortly after the Hellas basin formed following a giant asteroid or comet impact. Water would have flowed from the uplands (to the east) and drained into the low-lying basin, carving river channels as it flowed. The gentle curves-called “meanders” by geomorphologists-imply that this paleoriver carried lots of sediment along with it, depositing it into Hellas. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA20815

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft successfully launches at 2:47:41 a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Designed and built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the 2,138-pound (970-kilogram) spacecraft was placed into an elliptical Earth orbit 63 minutes after launch. About 19 minutes later the mission operations team at APL acquired a signal from the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network antenna station in Goldstone, Calif., and by 5:45 a.m. EDT Mission Director Dr. Robert W. Farquhar of the Applied Physics Lab confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready to carry out its early orbit maneuvers. CONTOUR will orbit Earth until Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to fire its main engine and enter a comet-chasing orbit around the sun. The mission’s flexible four-year plan includes encounters with comets Encke (Nov. 12, 2003) and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (June 19, 2006), though it can add an encounter with a “new” and scientifically valuable comet from the outer solar system, should one be discovered in time for CONTOUR to fly past it. CONTOUR’s four scientific instruments will take detailed pictures and measure the chemical makeup of each comet’s nucleus — a chunk of ice and rock — while analyzing the surrounding gas and dust.

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. – A third-quarter moon is the only visible element in the sky as NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft successfully launches at 2:47 a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Designed and built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the 2,138-pound (970-kilogram) spacecraft was placed into an elliptical Earth orbit 63 minutes after launch. About 19 minutes later the mission operations team at APL acquired a signal from the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network antenna station in Goldstone, Calif., and by 5:45 a.m. EDT Mission Director Dr. Robert W. Farquhar of the Applied Physics Lab confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready to carry out its early orbit maneuvers. CONTOUR will orbit Earth until Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to fire its main engine and enter a comet-chasing orbit around the sun. The mission’s flexible four-year plan includes encounters with comets Encke (Nov. 12, 2003) and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (June 19, 2006), though it can add an encounter with a “new” and scientifically valuable comet from the outer solar system, should one be discovered in time for CONTOUR to fly past it. CONTOUR’s four scientific instruments will take detailed pictures and measure the chemical makeup of each comet’s nucleus — a chunk of ice and rock — while analyzing the surrounding gas and dust.

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft successfully launches at 2:47 a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Designed and built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the 2,138-pound (970-kilogram) spacecraft was placed into an elliptical Earth orbit 63 minutes after launch. About 19 minutes later the mission operations team at APL acquired a signal from the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network antenna station in Goldstone, Calif., and by 5:45 a.m. EDT Mission Director Dr. Robert W. Farquhar of the Applied Physics Lab confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready to carry out its early orbit maneuvers. CONTOUR will orbit Earth until Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to fire its main engine and enter a comet-chasing orbit around the sun. The mission’s flexible four-year plan includes encounters with comets Encke (Nov. 12, 2003) and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (June 19, 2006), though it can add an encounter with a “new” and scientifically valuable comet from the outer solar system, should one be discovered in time for CONTOUR to fly past it. CONTOUR’s four scientific instruments will take detailed pictures and measure the chemical makeup of each comet’s nucleus — a chunk of ice and rock — while analyzing the surrounding gas and dust.

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft successfully launches at 2:47:41 a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Designed and built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the 2,138-pound (970-kilogram) spacecraft was placed into an elliptical Earth orbit 63 minutes after launch. About 19 minutes later the mission operations team at APL acquired a signal from the spacecraft through the Deep Space Network antenna station in Goldstone, Calif., and by 5:45 a.m. EDT Mission Director Dr. Robert W. Farquhar of the Applied Physics Lab confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready to carry out its early orbit maneuvers. CONTOUR will orbit Earth until Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to fire its main engine and enter a comet-chasing orbit around the sun. The mission’s flexible four-year plan includes encounters with comets Encke (Nov. 12, 2003) and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (June 19, 2006), though it can add an encounter with a “new” and scientifically valuable comet from the outer solar system, should one be discovered in time for CONTOUR to fly past it. CONTOUR’s four scientific instruments will take detailed pictures and measure the chemical makeup of each comet’s nucleus — a chunk of ice and rock — while analyzing the surrounding gas and dust.