NASA SET TO LAUNCH FIRST COMET IMPACT PROBE
15 December 2004
One-way mission explores questions about solar system formation
Launch and flight teams are in final preparations for the planned January 12, 2005, liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. Deep Impact will deploy a probe that essentially will be "run over" by the nucleus (core) of comet Tempel 1 at about 37,000 kilometers per hour. The mission is designed for a six-month, one-way, 431 million-kilometer voyage, according to a December 14 NASA press release.
"It is going to be an exciting mission," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, "and we can all witness its culmination together as Deep Impact provides the planet with its first man-made celestial fireworks on our nation's birthday, July 4th."
The fireworks will be courtesy of a 1-by-1 meter copper-fortified probe. It is designed to obliterate itself as it excavates a crater possibly large enough to swallow the Roman Coliseum.
Before, during and after the demise of this 372-kilogram "impactor," a nearby spacecraft will be watching the 6-kilometer-wide comet nucleus, collecting pictures and data of the event.
NASA's Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes will be observing from near-Earth space. Hundreds of miles below, professional and amateur astronomers on Earth will also be able to observe material flying from the comet's newly formed crater.
Deep Impact will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material and debris from the solar system's formation remain relatively unchanged. The project seeks to answer basic questions about solar system formation.
Information about Deep Impact is available at www.nasa.gov/deepimpact.