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Dr Doug Buettner: STARDUST and Aerogel — the Oregon Connection and an Insider's Story to Achieve the Dream

The Stardust spacecraft, which has traveled 2 billion miles, was launched Feb. 7, 1999, and returned to earth Jan. 15, 2006, when its Aerogel-embedded samples of comet and interstellar dust will be returned to earth on a capsule designed to safely land them in Utah. Comets are thought to have been created before the planets, so scientists hope analysis of the comet samples will reveal information about the creation of our solar system.

Dr. Buettner is now a Sr. Project Engineer at Aerospace, where he is assisting government contractors test and improve their ground software in the Space-Based Surveillance Division of The Aerospace Corp.

The laboratory he built at JPL was used on numerous space shuttle flights, and on the Soviet Union�s MIR space station to capture high and hyper-velocity dust in space. The lab also supplied Aerogel to Sojourner, the very first robotic rover on Mars, and ultimately his autoclave was used by STARDUST mission scientists and engineers to make Aerogel to return for the first time in human history intact dust samples from a Comet.

Aerogel is composed of 99.8% air and is chemically similar to ordinary glass. Being the world's lightest known solid, it weighs only three times that of air.

Aerogel (also called 'frozen smoke' because of its hazy blue appearance), is a truly remarkable material. It starts out as a wet gel (like Jell-O), which is dried at extremely high temperatures and pressures in an autoclave to produce a solid material.

Because it is so porous, Aerogel has the ability to capture dust particles in space which are traveling six times faster than the speed of a rifle bullet, a speed of 13,650 miles per hour! It can also capture the particles without changing their structure, which is ideal for the studies.

This exotic substance has many unusual properties, such as low thermal conductivity, refractive index and sound speed - in addition to its exceptional ability to capture fast moving dust. 

Dr. Doug Buettner was born in Klamath Falls and grew up in Madras, graduating from Madras High in 1984. After high school, he spent two years studying Astrophysics at Boston University, after which he transferred to Oregon State and completed his bachelors and masters degrees in Physics in '88 and '91. His graduate work at Oregon State was funded in part by a NASA student research grant where he worked with OSU's Dr. David Griffiths and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Dr. Peter Tsou on hypervelocity intact capture; invented at JPL by Dr. Tsou. This work led to further research funding to support JPL and U.S. Air Force experiments to characterize the ballistic performance of high density foams for use in mannequins to capture shrapnel from live fire tests on F-16 fighter jets.