back to article NASA's Stardust set to 'burn to depletion'

The career of NASA's Stardust spacecraft comes to an end this evening when it performs a final firing of its engines, shuts down its transmitters and floats off into history. The veteran comet-hunter launched in February 1999 on its primary mission to collect dust from Comet Wild 2. That proved a success, with samples …


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  1. IglooDude


    "Wherever the body of Stardust eventually travels, it's unlikely to return to Earth in the near future."

    ...except as an alien-enhanced version of itself capable of obliterating the Earth unless it merges with a Deltan/human couple, or finds whales that will sing to it, or something.

    1. John 62


      Where's Spock for the mind meld?

    2. Anton Ivanov

      Come on, be more optimistic than that

      I'd rather take the version where it lands behind the Wall as a pretty blond only to be hit by a magical flying moron.

  2. Annihilator Silver badge


    Damn my human ability to infer feelings onto inanimate objects. I actually "awww"-ed a little bit when reading that story. Poor Stardust :-( Can just see it singing it's last few minutes away.

    Daisy, Daisy, giiiivvvvveee meeeee youuuuurrrrr aaaaanssssswwerrrrrrr ddoooo...

  3. Mystic Megabyte

    Alternative plan

    Or they could crash it into the nearest nuclear reactor to Lewis Page's house, cos' apparently that won't be a problem.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


      Leave the Lewis alone.

      I actually have to rub his articles under the nose of the office chickens panicking because of 0.2 microsievert additional heat-in-meat.

    2. Steve Todd

      How much of a satellite

      do you think is left after a fall from orbit? Meteors and space junk are falling all of the time, just how many people do you think have been killed by one in recent times? (hint: the number is less than 1 in the last century). You stand a much better chance of being struck by lightening, multiple times.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It always seems a shame to let them just drift off

    rather than being set on a collision course with something for a fiery Viking-style send-off. That's the scary Norse dudes with the helmets, not the Mars landers, of course.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge


      ...Brett Favre's old team...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't understand it

    Why can't they just park this stuff for pickup later. I know it's easier said than done, and probably impossible, but it just seems like a waste to see something like this go into oblivion without any usage. Why not design it where it can keep doing something useful after it's primary and secondary missions?

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      RE: Don't understand it

      Well it's already done more than it was built for - so in that respect it's far from "not had any usage" ! But I suspect it would be hard to get from wherever it is now to a stable orbit where it could be parked - don't forget that this is way out of a regular Earth orbit as it's been sent out to get data from asteroids.

      On top of that it's almost out of fuel. This isn't just a burn off for the sake of burning it activity like the chavs doing donuts in the local car park. If you read the article they are going to use this to determine how accurate their models of fuel usage have been - so they can refine them for future use. They can't do this on most devices since (for example) a satellite at the end of it's useful life normally needs to be re-entered in a controlled manor so that it will mostly burn up and what's left will drop into an ocean rather than the middle of a city.

      And lastly, if they left it 'alive' then they'd also have to leave a project running to keep an eye on it and send it corrective instructions whenever necessary. By 'killing' it they can shut down the project completely which means an end to ongoing costs.

    2. Annihilator Silver badge

      They did

      They squeezed a second mission out of it as stated in the article. This will be it's 3rd (ish) mission, which is more useful to NASA than having it "parked" in a non-useful orbit (which requires power to keep it in place). When you consider the trajectories it needed in order to do this, it's mighty impressive already.

    3. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Hard to do...

      ...because you can't just "park" a spacecraft. In outer space, gravitational forces coming from all the celestial bodies tend to yank the craft, kinda like how a sea ship can end up off course due to currents. Unless it can make its way to what's known as a Lagrange Point, there's little likelihood of it being in any predictable location in the future.

      And even if you could pick it up, why would you want it? It wasn't built for re-entry, so it'll probably go all to pieces once it gets back.

      As for a tertiary mission, it's kinda hard to do with (a) no comets due in for a while and (b) not enough fuel in the tank for any serious work in any event. It's hit an EOL condition, so it's better to finish it off in a predictable fashion. Since there are no nearby uninhabited celestial bodies for a crash landing, the next best thing is to send it out of the way.

      1. Peter Mc Aulay

        Re: Hard to do...

        In a sense they are in fact putting it into a parking orbit. Around Sol.

  6. PixelPusher220

    Buck Rogers anyone?

    I wonder why we don't fire the thing into the Sun. Guaranteed we don't encounter it again. Its not like we can 'pollute' the sun, what with it being an on going nuclear reaction and all.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Buck Rogers anyone?

      RE: "I wonder why we don't fire the thing into the Sun."

      Probably not enough gas in the tank for that. Getting close to the Sun is about as hard as getting farther from it. The recent probe to Mercury flew a long route with several gravity assist flybys from Earh and Venus to make it.

      In space, you cannot just drop things into a "gravity well".

    2. Anton Ivanov


      They have enough propellant to fool about for a couple of minutes. That can alter the course sufficiently to "fire into the sun" only if there is a suitable planet whose gravity well you can use to speed-up/slow-down the craft. That however is not on the menu for the next few decades - the craft is in the middle of nowhere. So they cannot realistically fire it into anything.

  7. Alan Firminger


    We need a skip in space.

    1. Annihilator Silver badge

      Shirley you mean

      We need a skiiiiiiip innnnnn spaaaaaaaaaaaccce?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We have

      Space is a skip. Would you bother having a pedal bin in a wheelie bin?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Space is a skip?

        "Nor are we out of it." You talk like the Hadean eon was something that happened to other people...

  8. Robert Heffernan

    Sun Dive.. Oddly Poetic

    Crashing Stardust into the sun would be oddly poetic..

    It's materials were at one time (trillions of years ago) star dust expelled from a supernova.

    Then by flying it into the sun, it would be returned to star dust.

    *Flames: Burn on old friend!

  9. h 6


    I feel so sad for all the chimps and doggies on board.

    <----- tear in beer

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stardust will not get close to Earth's orbit in the next 100 years

    After that, we didn't bother checking: we'll be dead, and more importantly, not on the payroll anymore. Screw our grandchildren.

  11. Steve 13

    @Fire it into the Sun

    Because it doesn't have enough fuel for that radical a change in orbit.

  12. Nick 10

    SunDive Tour 2011

    I think they should paint it completely black, and then fly it into the heart of the nearest star. Although with just between 2 and 10 minutes of burn time left, that might not be enough.

    1. MrT


      It'll take a while to get there, but that just means there's enough time to set up the planet-busting soundstage on Mercury.

  13. Paul in NJ

    Let's not forget the microchips...

    Before the probe was launched, the public was invited to have their names engraved ona pair of microchips:

    "Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999 carrying the two microchips. Two copies of each chip were installed on the spacecraft (for a total of four chips). Two of the microchips (#1 & #2) are inside the Sample Return Capsule, and was returned back to Earth with the capsule when it landed in Utah on January 15, 2006. The capsule along with the microchips have been transported to the curation facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on January 17, 2006, where they currently reside. The other two chips are on the spacecraft body and will remain in space forever."

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