Washington, September 26 : Soon, NASA's Stardust sample return capsule, that has returned the world's first particles from a comet, will join the collection of flight icons in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, US.
The capsule will go on public display in the museum's 'Milestones of Flight' Gallery on October 1, 2008, the 50th anniversary of NASA.
Stardust, comprising a spacecraft and capsule, completed a seven-year, 3-billion-mile journey in 2006.
A tennis racket-like, aerogel-lined collector was extended to capture particles as the spacecraft flew within 150 miles of comet Wild 2 in January 2004. Carrying the collected particles, the capsule returned to Earth January 15, 2006, landing in Utah.
Two days later, it was transported to a curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Very few people get to build something, launch it into space, see it be successful and then get it back in their hands," said Karen McNamara, Johnson recovery lead for the Stardust mission. "To be able to share this with the public is phenomenal," she added.
The capsule joins the Wright brothers' 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module Columbia that carried the first men to walk on the moon.
According to Roger Launius, senior curator of the Division of Space History at the museum, "The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum is delighted to add to the National Collection the Stardust return capsule."
"As one of the premier space science missions of the recent past, Stardust will take its place alongside other iconic objects from the history of air and spaceflight. I look forward to helping to impart more knowledge to our visitors about the makeup of the universe using this significant and path breaking object," he added.
"Usually, when a piece of your spacecraft goes into the Smithsonian that means the mission's over," said Stardust-NExT project manager Rick Grammier, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"But, the Stardust spacecraft is still doing the job for NASA and in February 2011, it will fly within 120 miles of the comet," he added.