Smithsonian Comet Return
Douglas C. Pizac  /  AP
Ron Ceeders, a Lockheed Martin technician, unbolts a canister containing comet dust from the Stardust capsule at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in this Jan. 15, 2006, photo. Mud is seen caked on the exterior of the capsule from its landing in the desert.
updated 10/1/2008 3:31:45 PM ET 2008-10-01T19:31:45

The capsule that brought the first comet samples back to Earth is going on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The Stardust capsule will go on display Wednesday to join other firsts of flight at the museum, including Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 Command Module.

The capsule launched in 1999 and took seven years to reach Comet Wild 2, capture dust and bring it back to Earth. The roundtrip journey of 3 billion miles marked the first U.S. robotic sample to be returned from beyond the moon.

The Stardust capsule goes to the Smithsonian on NASA's 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, the capsule's mother ship remains in permanent orbit around the sun, awaiting use on a future mission.

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