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Asteroids - Missions to Comets

There have been a surprising number of spacecraft sent to study comets - both past and present.

Missions of the Past:

The first probe to visit a comet was the ISEE-3/ICE probe. Launched in 1978, the probe was sent to study comet Giacobini-Zinner. The mission proved the "dirt-snowball" theory, that comets are composed of mixed rock and ice. The mission ended in 1981 and is now in a heliocentric orbit that will bring it close to Earth in 2014. There are plans to capture the probe for display in the Smithsonian Institution.

The next probe to visit a comet was Japan's Sakigake probe. Launched in 1985, the probe reached comet Halley in 1986. Its closest approach was 7 million kilometers.

The European Space Agencies first deep space mission was Giotto. This remarkable probe was able to study two comets: comet Halley in 1986 and comet Grigg-Skjellerup in 1992. Its closest approach to a comet was only 200 km.

Japan's second probe, Suisei, was also sent to study comet Halley in 1986. This mission was a direct result of the success of Sakigake.

While not a cometary probe, the Galileo spacecraft did capture the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.

The Ulysses probe - designed for Solar studies - did pass close to comet Hyakutake in 1996. The result was the study of the longest tail ever - composed of ions, gas and dust.

NASA's Deep Space 1 was a probe designed both a comet and an asteroid. Launched in 1998, the probe studied comet Borrelly in 2001.

On July 3, 2002, the CONTOUR probe was launched to study two comets. Contact to the probe was lost after only a month in the mission.

Current Missions:

The Stardust mission is a return sample mission. Launched in 1999, the probe encountered comet Wild 2 in 2004 and captured particles surrounding the comet. It is currently returning to Earth and is planned to enter the atmosphere on January 15, 2006.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe was launched in 2004 to study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will attempt a first ever landing on a comet when it reaches its target in November of 2014.

Just recently launched on January 12, 2005 was NASA's Deep Impact probe. Its purpose is to send a projectile to the comet creating an impact crater so the main craft will perform spectroscopy of the internal structures. Its target: comet Tempel 1.

The Future:

There are no proposed missions for visits to comets.

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