Spacecraft launched for close-up rendezvous with comets



The Comet Nucleus Tour (or CONTOUR), a NASA Discovery mission, is on its way to having close encounters with two and possibly three comets of the estimated 1 million million comets in our Solar System. Launched on 3 July from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the $159-million CONTOUR mission will use a series of Earth-gravity assist maneuvers to gain up-close images of the comets Encke and Schwassmann-Wachman 3. In addition, mission plans include sufficient flexibility to possibly include a rendezvous with a third comet if the opportunity arises and the scientific payoff is considered great enough.