In what is almost becoming a trend for NASA satellites, another craft well past its scheduled retirement recently returned valuable data from space. Deep Space 1, which had its original mission extended in September 1999, cruised within 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) of the comet Borrelly this past Saturday at approximately 3:30 p.m. PDT. Mission controllers began receiving preliminary information about the encounter from all four of the spacecraft's instruments a short 13 minutes later.
Electron and ion monitors on Deep Space 1 started detecting the comet's environment a few hours before the closest approach, during which time an infrared spectrometer took measurements that should help to determine the comet's composition. From about a half an hour to a few minutes before the closest approach, Deep Space 1 cameras snapped a series of black-and-white images. The pictures and other, more detailed measurements should arrive back on Earth within the next few days.
"The images and other data we collected from comet Borrelly so far will help scientists learn a great deal about these intriguing members of the solar system family," says Marc Rayman, the Deep Space 1 project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's very exciting to be among the first humans to glimpse the secrets that this comet has held since before the planets were formed.