T-minus two weeks and counting till NASA closes their passenger list for a one-way trip to comet Tempel 1. On January 31, NASA's Deep Impact mission will end its campaign to launch the names of space enthusiasts who want to make a deep impact on a comet.
On July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft will impact a copper projectile about the size of a garbage can into the surface of a frozen ball of ice and rock, comet Temple 1, creating a crater about the size of a football stadium. A CD containing the names of those who signed on board for this one-way trip to a celestial snowball will be literally obliterated along with the 370-kilogram (816 pound) copper-tipped impactor.
When the impactor reaches out and touches Temple 1 at about 37,000 kilometers (22,990 miles) per hour, Deep Impact's flyby spacecraft will collect pictures and data. The flyby spacecraft will send its data back to Earth in near real time through the antennas of the Deep Space Network. Simultaneously, professional and amateur astronomers on Earth will observe the ejecta flying from the comet's newly formed crater adding to the data and images collected by the Deep Impact spacecraft and other space telescopes.
"This is an opportunity to become part of an extraordinary space mission," said Dr. Don Yeomans, an astronomer at JPL and a member of the Deep Impact science team. "When the craft is launched in December 2004, yours and the names of your loved-ones can hitch along for the ride and be part of what may be the best space fireworks show in history."
Deep Impact is the first deep-space mission that will really reach out and touch a comet. Mission scientists are confident such an intimate glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material and debris from the formation of the solar system remain relatively unchanged, will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system as well as getting a better look at the nature and composition of these celestial wanderers.
"This campaign will allow people from around the world to become directly involved with the Deep Impact mission and through that, get them thinking about the scientific reasons for the mission," said University of Maryland astronomy professor, Dr. Michael A'Hearn, Deep Impact's principal investigator. "We particularly hope to capture the interest of young students, as they will become the explorers of the next generation."
People may submit their names for this historic one-way mission by visiting NASA's Deep Impact Web site through January 31 at: http://deepimpact.jpl.nasa.gov/
The University of Maryland in College Park is home to A'Hearn, who oversees the scientific investigations. Project manager, Rick Grammier, from JPL, manages and operates the Deep Impact mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colo. manages the spacecraft development.
Deep Impact was selected in 1999 as a NASA Discovery mission. The goal of the Discovery Program is to launch smaller, low cost capped missions studying new science questions. The main objective is to enhance understanding of the solar system by exploring the planets, their moons, and small bodies, such as comets and asteroids.
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