Again with the wow and the ooh and the aaah.

stardust1.jpg NASA produces a relatively steady stream of accomplishments which give me serious goosebumps. Earlier I pointed to Voyager reaching the limits of the known, and before that to the astonishing mission of Stardust. Now Stardust has completed that mission successfully, with its collection capsule, pictured at right, touching down safely and on target yesterday.
Stardust-Trajectory-red_250.gif Think about it for a moment: seven years ago, the Stardust team launched a small robot into space, intending that it should travel 4,600,000,000 kilometers to rendezvous with a 15-km wide chunk of frozen dust travelling at more than 20,000 km/hr, photograph it, catch a thimbleful of its tail and then return that sample safely to earth — and it worked. All of it. The little capsule (it weighs about 125 pounds) is safely in a NASA cleanroom, Stardust is on its way to a permanent orbit around the sun, and a few grams of space dust will be revealing some of the universe’s secrets as the analyis (in which, incidentally, you can be involved if you want to) continues.
There aren’t words for this feeling, there really aren’t. Damn.