• Launch date: 7 February 1999
• Orbital insertion: 15 January 2006
• End of mission: 15 January 2006
• Agency: NASA
Stardust was the first spacecraft to return a cometary sample and extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the moon to Earth. In 2004, the Stardust spacecraft made a close flyby of comet Wild-2, collecting comet and interstellar dust in a substance called aerogel.
Two years later, the samples made it back to Earth in a return capsule that landed in the Utah desert. The Stardust mission samples indicated that some comets may have included materials ejected from the early sun and may have formed very differently than scientists had theorized.
The spacecraft, which was still operational, was later recycled for the Stardust-NExT mission, which flew by comet Tempel 1 on Feb. 14, 2011