Spacesuits with a Sprinkle of Stardust

July 21, 2018

Today will be a short blog because it has gotten very busy here at LPI with only two weeks left of the internship. I can tell you about our short visit to the NASA Stardust mission laboratory and the crew and thermal systems division at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).


On the 17th of July, myself and the graduate LPI interns were invited to visit the Stardust laboratory at JSC. We were quite excited because the research at the Stardust lab was entirely different to our thesis work back at our universities and the work we have been working on at LPI. We were all surprised we fit into the non-cleanroom part of the lab because it was quite small, only slightly bigger than 2 ranger rovers. Before I show you pictures I should give you a brief background about the Stardust mission.


The Stardust spacecraft, launched on the 7th of February, 1999, was the first US mission to focus on analysing and sampling cometary dust and carbon-based particles from a comet. The spacecraft collected samples from the Wild 2 comet, also known as "Vilt 2" (pronounced as Vilt) named after John Wild the Swiss astronomer who discovered the comet in 1978. To reach the comet, the spacecraft had to make three loops around the Sun. After the second loop, the spacecraft passed the comet and was able to count the number of dust and interstellar particles impacting the spacecraft using the Dust Flux Monitor and analyse the composition of the dust particles and volatiles using the Comet and Interstellar Dust Analyzer. Once returning to the comet after the third loop around the Sun, the Stardust spacecraft used aerogel to collect cometary dust, interstellar particles, and carbon-based material from the cometary tail. Since the spacecraft was not designed to land on the surface of the comet NASA could not use traditional tools to collect samples (e.g. hammer, scoop, drill core, etc).


Pictures above show the aerogel used to collect the cometary dust and interstellar particles, and a petri dish containing dust samples



In 2006, the spacecraft returned to Earth containing micron-sized cometary dust and interstellar particles from the Wild II comet. Research continues today at JSC as analysing the salt minerals, olivine, and volatiles found in the dust particles are discovering new things about our solar system and cometary processes.


After our tour, we took a quick detour to the crew and thermal systems division before returning to LPI. Unfortunately, we could not stay in the building long because there was a seminar and a lot of people were working. We were able to get some quick photographs of spacesuits used during the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle missions! It may have been a quick visit but I was very glad we managed to fit it in that morning.

Again, sorry the blog is quite short, it has been very busy lately. However, I found out we are going to be visiting the robotics and human exploration laboratory at JSC, which I am extremely excited about! I will keep you all updated about the visit next week!


See you all soon.



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