Why We Use Heat Shields


So in follow-up to my earlier entry about asteroid samples being returned to Earth…   well the sample container did indeed survive re-entry.   The below still from a NASA chaser-plane shows the sample container as the dot of light in front of (that is, on the right-hand side of the image), just beneath the main shower of sparks.

The sample container had a heat-shield.  The mother-ship, however, did not… and you can see the wonderful fireworks it created as the atmospheric stresses of reentry ripped it to shreds:


So while the sample container remained a small fireball in front of the rest of the craft, it didn’t shatter into pieces like its mother-ship did.

A fiery end to a first in human space exploration though!    Even if we didn’t manage to capture any samples of the asteroid… its still the first time a human-made spacecraft has made multiple landings on such a body.

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