NASA retires Deep Impact comet-bashing spacecraft after a month of silence and 5 billion miles

Almost a decade ago, NASA sent a spacecraft called Deep Impact into space, tasking it with providing the agency with information about comets. This was achieved by bashing the space rocks open, sending particles from the comet spinning free to be analyzed by researchers. Now, after about nine years and traversing nearly 5 billion miles, the spacecraft has officially been retired after disappearing last month.

In August, Deep Impact went silent without warning, putting an end to what has been the longest overall distance a spacecraft has traversed, working out to 4.7 billion miles in total. Though it didn't quite hit the decade mark, the space agency has said that it wasn't expected the device would last as long as it did, and that it successfully completed its missions, making the overall mission a job well done.

As for the spacecraft itself, NASA doesn't know what happened to it, with the leading theory being that it ended up losing control. Under such a condition, the spacecraft could then end up turning the wrong direction, putting its solar panels and antenna out of contact with the ground-level engineers and the sun. This would both cut communications, and then eventually its power.

Said the University of Maryland's Deep Impact Principal Investigator Mike A'Hearn: "Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we hand planned. It has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity." One of NASA's project managers elaborated on this, saying that the original mission had been completed in six months, but that "the science team kept finding interesting things to do, and through the ingenuity of our mission team and navigators and support of NASA's Discovery Program, this spacecraft kept it up for more than eight years, producing amazing results all along the way."