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Comet Harpoon

April 2, 2012

NASA scientists are testing a harpoon that could bring back samples from comets.



Hunting a comet. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[Sound of crossbow winch]

Here at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Donald Wegel uses an electric winch to pull back the steel string of a six-foot high crossbow. On it is a harpoon aimed at a 55-gallon barrel. From a neigboring room, he fires the bow.


Wegel is an engineer working on a mission to fly alongside a speeding comet, fire the harpoon into its surface, pull it back with a tube of comet material inside and then return the sample to earth.

DONALD WEGEL (NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center):

Comets are early remnants of the solar system’s formationb. What I like to say, the primordial ooze of the solar system.


Understanding what comets are made of could help unlock secrets to the origin of our solar system and the beginnings of the first life on our planet. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

At the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, scientist Donald Wegel explains how the comet harpoon works to Science Update host Bob Hirshon. (Susanne Bard/AAAS)