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Nasa developing space harpoon

To pluck samples from comets

Nasa developing space harpoon

Stupid, lazy Nasa. You've been in existence almost 100 years and only now have you put the words space and harpoon together.

Behold... Nasa is developing a harpoon capable of taking samples from comets. The space agency has already built a prototype capable of launching test harpoon tips across a distance of a mile (1.6km).

They believe samples could reveal the origins of the planets and how life was created on Earth.

Essentially they want to send a spacecraft to meet a comet, then fire its harpoon into the rock while hovering above it. Once it collects soil samples, the harpoon can be reeled back to the space craft and return to earth for analysis. Jump to 35 seconds for the nitty gritty.

Engineers have built a trial harpoon that is 6ft (183cm) tall. The bow is made of a pair of springs normally used for truck suspension, while the string is made out of steel cable half an inch thick.

It can fire projectiles at speeds of more than 100ft per second. Test projectiles are fired into large drums filled with sand, rock salt, ice or pebbles.

"We had to bolt it to the floor, because the recoil made the whole testbed jump after every shot," said the project's lead engineer, Donald Wegel.

"We're not sure what we'll encounter on the comet - the surface could be soft and fluffy, mostly made up of dust, or it could be ice mixed with pebbles, or even solid rock.

"Most likely, there will be areas with different compositions, so we need to design a harpoon that's capable of penetrating a reasonable range of materials."

The project has been funded and the first harpoon will launch in 2016 and hopefully return in 2023.