Space capsule carrying comet dust on course to return to Earth

A &to=' target=_blank>NASA spacecraft carrying the first comet dust samples to Earth is on course to land in the Utah desert this weekend, scientists said Thursday.

"We are nearing the end of quite a fantastic voyage," said Don Brownlee, principal investigator for the Stardust project.

Late Friday, the spacecraft will adjust its flight path for the third and final time. Then late Saturday, it is scheduled to release the shuttlecock-shaped capsule that will plunge through the atmosphere for a parachute landing early Sunday.

The mothership will enter perpetual orbit around the sun.

Stardust's homecoming will mark the end of a seven-year, $212 million (Ђ175 million) journey in which the spacecraft swooped past comet Wild 2 to collect microscopic dust. Along the way, it also captured interstellar dust, storing all the samples inside the capsule for the trip home.

Scientists believe about a million dust particles will be returned, including some older than the sun.

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