It is the not-too-distant future and teams of sciencists are routinely using
small, maneuverable space stations to venture out into Earths
neighborhood as part of a long-term study of small bodies in the
Solar System. Primary targets include comets and asteroids, which scientists
believe are the oldest, most primitive bodies in the Solar System and may
preserve the earliest record of the material that formed Earth and its
During this mission, team members work as scientists and engineers headed to
Rendezvous with a Comet as part of this continuing study of our Solar System.
These rendezvous missions are critical in helping scientists verify and better
understand data collected by earlier small body missions occurring at the start
of the new millennium, such as STARDUST and its capture of cometary material
from comet Wild-2 in 2004 and the return of the material to Earth in 2006. The
actual samples provided by STARDUST established detailed baseline data on
comets still used today.
The onboard astronauts, woking with their counterparts in Mission Control, are
tasked with sending a probe to intercept and collect new data on a well-studied
short-period comet before heading on to study the asteroid Ceres, the largest
asteroid, with a diameter of 623 miles (1,003 km).
Comet Encke provides an excellent target because its short period (3.3 years)
has allowed it to be observed from Earth at more apparitions (or appearances)
than any other comet, including the famous Comet Halley. Enke continues to
puzzle scientists because even though it has been in a short-period orbit for
thousands of years, the comet continues to have a high level of activity as the
Suns heat boils off its dirty ices into gases and dust. This is the first
probe to rendezvous with Encke since 2003 and the fly-by of the comet-chasing
The small, maneuverable space stations used for these rendezvous missions
require lots of maintenance and care, providing plenty of challenges for the
crews in space and on the ground. Navigating into the correct position for
probe launches - not to mention sending a probe through the material
surrounding an active comet - also requires concentration anad teamwork to
successfully collect vital scientific information and complete the mission.
Small bodies in the Solar System are also highly unpredictable objects and have
been known to surprise scientists from time to time, so crew members will also
need to be on their toes and ready to make quick decisions.
Challenger Center programs are designed to reflect academic standards such as
the Kentucky Program of Studies and Core Content for Assessment, the
National Science Education Standards, and the Curriculum and
Evaluation standards for school mathematics.