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Official NASA Communication 95-189

Official NASA Communication 95-189

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 06, 2007
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Douglas IsbellHeadquarters, Washington, DC October 23, 1995(Phone: 202/358-1753)RELEASE: 95-189NASA AND CNES SELECT SCIENCE INVESTIGATIONS FOR COMETLANDERScience investigations designed to image the surface of a comet close up and determine its exact chemical andmineralogical composition have been provisionally selectedby NASA and CNES, the French space agency, to be carried outearly next century on a comet lander named Champollion.Slated for launch aboard the International RosettaMission, Champollion and a similar comet lander namedRoLand, to be provided by a German-led consortium, will bethe first spacecraft ever to land on one of these ancientclumps of icy rubble.Planetary scientists believe that comets were theprimary building blocks for the outer planets of the solarsystem. Cometary bombardment also may have provided asignificant fraction of the atmosphere, oceans and organicmaterials of Earth when it was a young planet.The overall scientific objective of the Rosetta missionis to produce a global picture of a comet called Wirtanen,including its shape and composition, the nature of thevolatiles that it spews out, and the comet surface phenomenathat contribute to this process.The mission is named after the Rosetta Stone, anancient Egyptian tablet discovered near the town of Rosettain 1799 that provided a major key to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Jean-Francois Champollion of France, for whom one of the Rosetta mission comet landers isnamed, played a large part in deciphering it."The new knowledge about comets that Rosetta andChampollion promise to return will help us decipherimportant clues about the earliest stages of the formationof our solar system, just as the Rosetta Stone did with
 
ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics," said Dr. Wesley T.Huntress, Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASAHeadquarters, Washington D.C. "The most intriguingpotential result from Champollion's investigations is thepossible presence of complex organic molecules, which wouldtell us whether these precursors of life might have beenbrought to Earth by comets."-more--2-Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to orbit a comet.It represents the next major step in cometary science,following several recent reconnaissance flybys of comets byother international spacecraft. Rosetta is the thirdcornerstone mission in the European Space Agency's long-termspace science program called Horizon 2000.After its scheduled launch aboard an Ariane 5 vehiclein January 2003, the Rosetta spacecraft will performgravity-assist flybys of Mars and Earth, and then rendezvouswith comet Wirtanen in August 2011. It will deploy theChampollion and RoLand surface landers about one year later.Two asteroid flyby encounters also are planned for abouthalfway through the mission.The selected Champollion experiments incorporate anumber of new technologies, including high-density, three-dimensional electronics, an advanced infrared spectrometer,active pixel imaging sensors with on-chip electronics, anadvanced gamma-ray sensor, and a miniaturized, low-power gaschromatograph/mass spectrometer.A suite of a dozen cameras will provide Earth-boundscientists with their first close-up look at the surface of a comet. One set of cameras, to be provided by Dr. Jean-Pierre Bibring of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale inOrsay, France, will create stereo images of the landscapesurrounding the lander. A second camera set supplied by Dr.Roger Yelle of Boston University, Boston, MA, willphotograph the surface close to the lander. An even closerlook will be generated by a microscope, also supplied byYelle, which should reveal individual grains in the comet
 
nucleus.Organic molecules, which may provide clues to theorigin of life on Earth, will be identified by a gaschromatograph/mass spectrometer to be contributed by a groupled by Dr. Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space FlightCenter, Greenbelt, MD. Determining the chemical compositionof the comet itself is the task of an internationalconsortium headed by Dr. Claude d'Uston of the Centred'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements in Toulouse, France. Theywill use a gamma-ray spectrometer to measure the radiationgenerated from inside the comet by the cosmic rays thatbombard it continuously.The strength, density and temperature of the cometsurface will be measured by probes placed on spikes driveninto the surface. These spikes, to be provided by Dr.Thomas Ahrens of the California Institute of Technology,Pasadena, CA, will also serve to anchor the spacecraftfirmly to the comet and prevent it from drifting off intospace.The scientific investigators for the provisionallyselected instruments are based at 10 U.S. universities,three NASA field centers, three other U.S. laboratories, 10French institutes, and nine institutes in other countries.-more--3-A radio sounding tomographic experiment that wouldproduce a CAT scan-like, three-dimensional image of thecomet nucleus is under consideration as an additionalChampollion investigation, if financial and technicalresources can be made available. It would be provided byDr. Wlodek Kofman of the Centre d'Etude des PhenomenesAleatoires et Geophysiques, St. Martin d'Heres, France.Full confirmation of the Champollion instrument payloadis anticipated in about one year, after a formal review andendorsement by the ESA Space Program Committee in February1996, and verification by NASA and CNES that the selected

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