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Dissipate the energy from colliding particles.
2003 was quite a year for space and astronomy, with the loss of Columbia and Chinese making their first successful human space launch. It was definitely a year of highs and lows. Join universe Today as we look at the top space stories of the year. In no particular order...
In less than 2 days, NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly past Comet Wild 2 - on January 2 at 0740 UTC (2:40 am EST). The spacecraft has already entered the comet's halo; the cloud of dust and gas surrounding its nucleus. This is a dangerous part of the journey because the spacecraft could collide with particles from the Comet which are moving at 6.1 kilometres per second. In order to minimize any damage, Stardust has several shields made of composite material which dissipate the energy from colliding particles. The spacecraft will collect particles from the Comet and then return them to Earth in 2006.
NASA's Spirit rover made a slight correction to its trajectory on December 26, when it fired its thrusters for 3.4 seconds. The maneuver went flawlessly, and put the lander right on course to land in Mars' Gusev Crater on January 4 at 0435 UTC (11:35 pm EST January 3). This was Spirit's fourth trajectory correction maneuver since its launch on June 10, and two more might still happen in the final days if its flight is a little off-target. As with Beagle 2, the most dangerous part of the mission will happen when the rovers have to pass through Mars atmosphere and land safely on the planet.
The European Space Agency's Mars Express completed a major orbit maneuver, bringing the spacecraft from an equatorial orbit to a polar orbit around Mars. The spacecraft's main engine was fired for four minutes. Now that it's in a polar orbit around Mars, the spacecraft will be able to begin its scientific analysis of Mars, using its MARSIS radar to search up to several kilometres under the surface for reserves of water and ice. Mars Express will fly directly over the Beagle 2 landing site on January 7, 2004 and attempt to communicate with it.
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