NASA's EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) today, and the spacecraft has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited by a spacecraft.
Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer terminal screens.
"The mission team and scientists have worked hard for this day," said Tim Larson, EPOXI project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "It's good to see Hartley 2 up close."
Mission navigators are working to determine the spacecraft's closest approach distance. Preliminary estimates place the spacecraft close to the planned-for 700 kilometers (435 miles). Eight minutes after closest approach, at 6:59:47 a.m. PDT ( 9:59:47 a.m. EDT), the spacecraft's high-gain antenna was pointed at Earth and began downlinking vital spacecraft health and other engineering data stored aboard the spacecraft's onboard computer during the encounter.
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