Prior Missions


Stardust-NExT (Stardust-New Exploration of Tempel) was an extended mission that utilized the already "in flight" Stardust spacecraft to fly by comet Tempel 1 in Feb. 2011 and extend the investigation of that comet by the Deep impact mission. (Note - while the mission name was  changed to Stardust-NExT, the spacecraft continues to be referred to as "Stardust.") 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., managed Stardust-NExT for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Cornell University, New York is home to the mission's principal investigator, Joe Veverka. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Littleton, Colo. 

The primary science objectives of the Stardust-NExT mission were as follows: 

  • To extend our understanding of the processes that affect the surfaces of comet nuclei by documenting the changes that have occurred on comet Tempel 1 between two successive perihelion passages. 
  • To extend the geologic mapping of the nucleus of Tempel 1 to elucidate the extent and nature of layering and help models of the formation and structure of comet nuclei. 
  • To extend the study of smooth flow deposits, active areas, and known exposure of water ice. 
  • Document the surface changes on a comet’s nucleus between successive perihelion passages. 
  • Measure Tempel 1’s dust properties and compare with data taken from Comet Wild 2. 
  • Provide additional information on enigmatic layering and flow features discovered by the Deep Impact mission 
  • On-board instruments will image the nucleus surface and jets; count dust particles size and distribution during closest approach; and composition of dust for further ground analysis. 

Other Objectives: 

  • If possible, to characterize the crater produced by Deep Impact in July 2005 to better understand the structure and mechanical properties of cometary nuclei and elucidate crater formation processes on them. 
  • Measure the flux and mass distribution of dust particles within the coma using the DFMI instrument. 
  • Analyze the composition of dust particles within the coma using the CIDA instrument. 
  • Monitor comet activity over 60 days on approach using imaging. 

Research Staff:  Veverka, Thomas, Faculty Emeritus


Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. The Cornell Cassini researchers have diligently reviewed and researched the multitude of data provided by the mission.

Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. The Cornell Cassini researchers diligently reviewed and researched the multitude of data provided by the mission. 

 Cassini launched in October 1997 with the European Space Agency's Huygens probe. The probe was equipped with six instruments to study Titan, Saturn's largest moon. It landed on Titan's surface on Jan. 14, 2005, and returned spectacular results. 

Meanwhile, Cassini's 12 instruments returned a daily stream of data from Saturn's system since it arrived at Saturn in 2004. 

Among the most important targets of the mission were the moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as some of Saturn’s other icy moons. Towards the end of the mission, Cassini made closer studies of the planet and its rings. 

Research Members:  Joseph Veverka, Joseph Burns, Steven Squyres, Peter Gierasch, Phil Nicholson, Peter Thomas, Paul Helfenstein, Matthew Tiscareno 

Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs)

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004). 

The Mars Exploration Rover mission was part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.  Professor Stephen Squyres, the scientific Principal Investigator, and the Cornell MER Team have analyzed the extensive data returned from the rovers and have provided new research insight in the composition of Mars and the possibility of water on the red planet. 

Primary among the mission's scientific goals was to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft were targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past. The landing sites are at Gusev Crater, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater, and Meridiani Planum, where mineral deposits (hematite) suggest Mars had a wet past. 

After the airbag-protected landing craft settled onto the surface and opened, the rovers rolled out to take panoramic images. These images gave scientists the information they needed to select promising geological targets that tell part of the story of water in Mars' past. Then, the rovers drove to those locations to perform on-site scientific investigations. 

On May 22, 2011, NASA announced that it would cease attempts to contact Spirit, which had been stuck in a sand trap for two years. In June 2018, Opportunity was caught in a global-scale dust storm and the rover's solar panels were not able to generate enough power, with the last contact on June 10, 2018.  NASA declared the Opportunity mission over, which ended the 16-year long Mars Exploration Rover mission. 

Research members: Steve Squyres, Rob Sullivan 


Herschel, ESA’s cutting-edge space observatory, carried the largest, most powerful infrared telescope ever flown in space. A pioneering mission, Professors Martha Haynes and Don Campbell used it to study the origin and evolution of stars and galaxies to help understand how the Universe came to be the way it is today. 

The first observatory to cover the entire range from far-infrared to submillimetre wavelengths and bridge the two, Herschel explored further into the far-infrared than any previous mission, studying otherwise invisible dusty and cold regions of the cosmos, both near and far. 

By tapping these unexploited wavelengths, Herschel saw phenomena beyond the reach of other observatories, and studyied others at a level of detail that had not been captured before. The telescope’s primary mirror was 3.5 m in diameter, more than four times larger than any previous infrared space telescope and almost one and a half times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Its size allowed Herschel to collect almost 20 times more light than any previous infrared space telescope. 

The spacecraft carried three advanced science instruments: two cameras and a very high-resolution spectrometer. The detectors in these instruments were cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero by a sophisticated cryogenic system.   

Research Members:  Martha Haynes, Don Campbell