The Stardustspacecraft, en route to collect comet dust and return it to Earth, will fly bya small asteroid next month and use the opportunity to test equipment andprocedures, NASA officials said this week. The asteroid, discovered in 1942 andlater named Annefrank, is about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) in diameter.
"This isan engineering test," said Thomas Duxbury, Stardust project manager atNASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We have no science goals or scienceexpectations at Annefrank. It's an opportunity to try key procedures for thefirst time before we get to comet Wild- 2. We may identify problems that we canaddress before we reach our primary target."
Stardust willpass within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of the rock and willautomatically snap a picture. The great distance, however, will make it impossibleto see any surface detail, scientists said. Stardust is to hook up with Wild-2in 2004 and bring samples back in 2006.How are asteroids named?