Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission Team and Col. Joseph Kittinger are the National Air and Space Museum's 2008 Trophy Winners

April 3, 2008
News Release

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The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Trophy, the museum's highest honor, has been awarded this year to the team responsible for the breakthrough Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission and to the world record-setting parachutist and balloonist Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr. The Stardust team is honored in the category of Current Achievement and Kittinger in the category of Lifetime Achievement.

The 2008 winners will receive their awards at a private evening ceremony at the National Air and Space Museum building in Washington April 3. Established in 1985, the award recognizes outstanding achievements in the fields and history of aerospace science and technology. As in past years, trophy winners receive a miniature version of "The Web of Space," a sculpture by artist John Safer.

The 2008 National Air and Space Museum Trophy event is made possible through the generous support of Safe Flight Instrument Corporation.

More information about the National Air and Space Museum Trophy and a complete list of past winners are available at

The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25) Admission is free, but there is a $12 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

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Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission Team
Stardust launched in February 1999 on a 2 billion-mile roundtrip to rendezvous with Comet Wild 2, capture comet and interstellar dust, and return a capsule bearing these primordial solar system "treasures" for analysis here on Earth. Seven years later, the journey ended with the capsule streaking across the sky to a successful landing on U.S. soil in January 2006. Since then, the dust samples have gone to laboratories around the world for scientists to study the chemical composition of the comet and its signature of the early solar system. Stardust is managed for NASA through a partnership of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems and the University of Washington. The Stardust team accomplished the first U.S. robotic sample return mission beyond the moon and the first collection of comet material for study on Earth.

Samples of aerogel, a solid made almost entirely of air that was used to catch dust particles as the spacecraft passed near the comet, and a flight suit worn by Stardust project manager Thomas Duxbury of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be on display in the Trophy 2008 case at the National Air and Space Museum Mall building.

Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr.
Kittinger exemplifies the finest traditions of American aviation. While participating in U.S Air Force high-altitude balloon research programs in the 1960s, he parachuted from 102,800 feet. This world record for the highest parachute jump and longest free fall still stands today. In 1972, while commanding the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron on his third combat tour in Southeast Asia, Kittinger downed a MiG 21 before being shot down and captured. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war. Retired from the Air Force in 1978, he remains an active balloon and fixed wing pilot. A four-time winner of the Gordon-Bennett balloon trophy, he completed the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic in 1984. Kittinger is one of the nation's most distinguished and honored aviators.

The Trophy 2008 case will display the James Gordon Bennett Trophy (Kittinger won the James Gordon Bennett Balloon Race in 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1988.); the flight jacket and scarf Kittinger wore on the first solo balloon flight across the Atlantic Ocean; the hunting cap he wore on each of his high-altitude balloon flights; the bag issued to prisoners of war for their personal items when they were released by the North Vietnamese; and a POW bracelet worn by a citizen during his captivity.