Genesis (spacecraft)
The Genesis spacecraft was a NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 sample return
Sample return mission
A sample return mission is a spacecraft mission with the goal of returning tangible samples from an extraterrestrial location to Earth for analysis. Sample return missions may bring back merely atoms and molecules or a deposit of complex compounds such as dirt and rocks...

 probe which collected a sample of solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 and returned it to Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 for analysis. It was the first NASA sample return mission to return material since the Apollo Program, and the first to return material from beyond the orbit of the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

. Genesis was launched on August 8, 2001, and crash-landed in Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 on September 8, 2004, after a design flaw prevented the deployment of its drogue parachute
Drogue parachute
A drogue parachute is a parachute designed to be deployed from a rapidly moving object in order to slow the object, or to provide control and stability, or as a pilot parachute to deploy a larger parachute...

. The crash contaminated many of the sample collectors, but although most were damaged, many of the collectors were successfully recovered.

The Genesis science team demonstrated that some of the contamination could be removed or avoided, and that the solar wind could be analyzed using a variety of approaches. It is relatively easy to see the solar wind, but the precision measurements are difficult and techniques are still being refined in laboratories worldwide. Still, there is reason to believe that all of the mission's major science objectives will be achieved successfully.


The mission’s primary science objectives, as paraphrased from the original proposal fact sheet, were:
  • To obtain precise solar isotopic
    Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

     abundances of ion
    An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

    s in the solar wind, as essentially no data having a precision sufficient for solving planetary science problems are available;
  • To obtain greatly improved solar elemental abundances by factor of 3-10 in accuracy over what is in the literature;
  • To provide a reservoir of solar matter for 21st century science to be archived similarly as the lunar samples.

Note that the mission's science objectives refer to the composition of the sun, not that of the solar wind. Scientists desire a sample of the sun because evidence suggests that the outer layer of the sun preserves the composition of our early solar nebula. Therefore, knowing the elemental and isotopic composition of the outer layer of our sun is effectively the same as knowing the elemental and isotopic composition of our nebula. We could then use that data to model how planets and other solar-system objects formed and then extend those results to understanding stellar evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

 and the formation of solar systems elsewhere in the universe.

Clearly the ideal scientific option would be to send a spacecraft to the sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

 and grab some solar plasma; however, obtaining solar matter is not that straightforward because of the intense heat (millions of degrees) of the Sun’s superheated gases as well as the dynamic electromagnetic environment of the corona
A corona is a type of plasma "atmosphere" of the Sun or other celestial body, extending millions of kilometers into space, most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but also observable in a coronagraph...

, whose flares regularly interfere with the electronics of distant spacecraft. Luckily, the sun continuously sheds some of its outer layer in the form of solar wind. Even more fortunately, data collected prior to the Genesis mission suggests that the rock-forming elements are thought to maintain their relative proportions throughout the process of solar wind formation.

Accordingly, in order to meet the mission science objectives, the Genesis spacecraft was designed to collect solar wind ions and return them to Earth for analysis. Genesis carried several different solar-wind collectors, all of which passively collected solar wind; that is, the collectors sat in space facing the sun, while the ions in the solar-wind crashed into them at speeds over 200 km/s and, on impact, buried themselves in the surface of the collectors. This passive collection is a process similar to that used by the semi-conductor industry to make certain types of devices, and a simulation of the process is given by the free-access program SRIM
Stopping and Range of Ions in Matter
Stopping and Range of Ions in Matter is a group of computer programs which calculate interaction of ions with matter; the core of SRIM is a program Transport of ions in matter . The programs were developed by James F. Ziegler and Jochen P. Biersack around 1983 and are being continuously upgraded...


Most of the Genesis collectors continuously sampled all of the solar wind which the spacecraft encountered (the ‘bulk solar wind’). However, the spacecraft also carried three arrays of collectors which were deployed when specific “regimes” (fast, slow, coronal mass ejections) of solar wind were encountered, as determined by the electron- and ion- monitors on board. These deployable collector arrays were designed to provide data to test the hypothesis that the rock-forming elements keep their relative proportions throughout the processes forming solar wind.

There was a third, important type of collector on Genesis: the concentrator, which collected bulk solar wind, but was discriminating in that it electrostatically repelled hydrogen and had enough voltage that it focused the light solar wind elements (e.g., C, O, N, S) onto a small target, concentrating those ions by a factor of ~20. This concentrator was the electrostatic equivalent of using a parabolic mirror from a telescope to cook a hot dog, and somewhat like using a magnifying glass to start a fire. The objective of the concentrator was to bring back a sample with enhanced amounts of solar wind ions to make it possible for analysts to precisely measure the isotopes of the light elements.

Mission profile

Genesis was a Discovery-class
Discovery Program
NASA's Discovery Program is a series of lower-cost, highly-focused American scientific space missions that are exploring the Solar System. It was founded in 1992 to implement then-NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin's vision of "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions...

 mission of the NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. The facility is headquartered in the city of Pasadena on the border of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena...

 (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

. The spacecraft
A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....

 was designed and built by Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....

 Space Systems at a total mission cost of US$264 million.
NASA launched the craft on a Delta II 7326
Delta II
Delta II was an American space launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II is part of the Delta rocket family and was in service from 1989 until November 1, 2011...

 rocket on August 8, 2001 at 16:13:40 UTC from Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral, from the Spanish Cabo Cañaveral, is a headland in Brevard County, Florida, United States, near the center of the state's Atlantic coast. Known as Cape Kennedy from 1963 to 1973, it lies east of Merritt Island, separated from it by the Banana River.It is part of a region known as the...

. Following launch, Genesis cruised to the Earth then performed a Lissajous orbit
Lissajous orbit
In orbital mechanics, a Lissajous orbit, , named after Jules Antoine Lissajous, is a quasi-periodic orbital trajectory that an object can follow around a Lagrangian point of a three-body system without requiring any propulsion. Lyapunov orbits around a libration point are curved paths that lie...

 insertion maneuver, entering an elliptical orbit about on November 16, 2001. Genesis exposed its collector arrays on 3 December, and began collecting solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 particles. The collection process ended after 850 days, on April 1, 2004, with the spacecraft completing five halo loops
Halo orbit
A halo orbit is a periodic, three-dimensional orbit near the , , or Lagrange points in the three-body problem of orbital mechanics. A spacecraft in a halo orbit does not technically orbit the Lagrange point itself , but travels in a closed, repeating path near the Lagrange point...

 around . Genesis began its return to Earth on April 22, 2004. The return phase included an orbital detour toward the Earth so that the craft could be recovered during the daytime, as a direct approach would have forced it to be recovered at night. After completing one halo loop about , the spacecraft returned to Earth for a planned September 8, 2004 recovery.

Recovery phase

Following completion of the collection phase, the collector arrays were stowed in a sample return capsule, and the spacecraft returned to Earth. As the capsule was approaching Earth and at the first stages of re-entry, all appeared well.

Extensive planning had been conducted for the capsule's retrieval. A normal parachute
A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag, or in the case of ram-air parachutes, aerodynamic lift. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon...

 landing might have damaged the delicate samples, so the mission design called for a mid-air retrieval
Mid-air retrieval
Mid-air retrieval is a technique used in atmospheric reentry when the reentering vehicle is incapable of a satisfactory unassisted landing. The vehicle is slowed by means of parachutes, and then a specially-equipped aircraft matches the vehicle's trajectory and catches it in mid-air.This is a risky...

 of the sample return capsule. About 33 km above the ground, a drogue parachute
Drogue parachute
A drogue parachute is a parachute designed to be deployed from a rapidly moving object in order to slow the object, or to provide control and stability, or as a pilot parachute to deploy a larger parachute...

 was to be deployed to slow descent. Then, at a height of 6.7 km, a large parafoil
A parafoil is a nonrigid airfoil with an aerodynamic cell structure which is inflated by the wind. Ram-air inflation forces the parafoil into a classic wing cross-section. Parafoils are most commonly constructed out of ripstop nylon....

 was to be deployed to slow descent further and leave the capsule in stable flight. A helicopter
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally...

, with a second helicopter as a backup, was then to attempt to catch the capsule by its parachute on the end of a five-meter hook. Once retrieved, the capsule would have been soft-landed.

The sample return capsule entered Earth's atmosphere over northern Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

 at 16:55 UTC September 8, 2004, with a velocity of approximately 11.04 km/s (24,706 mph). Due to a design flaw in a deceleration sensor, parachute deployment was never triggered, and the spacecraft's descent was slowed only by its own air resistance. The planned mid-air retrieval could not be carried out, and the capsule crashed into the desert floor of the Dugway Proving Ground
Dugway Proving Ground
Dugway Proving Ground is a US Army facility located approximately 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah in southern Tooele County and just north of Juab County...

 in Tooele County, Utah
Tooele County, Utah
Tooele County is a county located in the U.S. state of Utah. As of 2000, the population was 40,735 and by 2005 was estimated at 51,311. Its county seat and largest city is Tooele....

, at about 86 metres per second (311 km/h (193.2 mph)).

The capsule broke open on impact, and part of the inner sample capsule was also breached. The damage was less severe than might have been expected given its velocity; it was to some extent cushioned by falling into fairly soft muddy ground.

Sample extraction and results

Unfired pyrotechnic devices in the parachute deployment system and toxic gases from the batteries delayed the recovery team’s approach to the crash site. After all was made safe, the damaged sample-return capsule was secured and moved to a clean room for inspection; simultaneously a crew of trained personnel scoured the site for collector fragments and sampled the local desert soil to archive as a reference by which to identify possible contaminants in the future. Recovery efforts by Genesis team members at the Utah Test and Training range – which included inspecting, cataloging and packaging various collectors — took four weeks.

Initial investigations showed that some wafers had crumbled to dust on impact, but others were largely intact. Desert dirt entered the capsule, but not liquid water. Because the solar wind particles are expected to be embedded in the wafers, whereas the contaminating dirt is likely just to lie on the surface, it may be possible to separate the dirt from the samples.

The analysis team hoped to extract some useful data from the capsule. Roger Wiens, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

 stated on September 10, 2004 that because much of the inner canister was still intact, and despite serious contamination, "We should be able to meet many, if not all, of our primary science goals". On September 21, 2004 the extraction was said to be going well, with wafer fragments beginning to be extracted from the science canister. NASA announced on January 27, 2005, that a first sample piece of an aluminum wafer was sent to scientists at Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis is a private research university located in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 1853, and named for George Washington, the university has students and faculty from all fifty U.S. states and more than 110 nations...

 for analysis.

On April 20, 2005, NASA announced that scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston had removed the four solar-wind collectors from an instrument called the concentrator and found them in excellent shape. The concentrator's targets collected solar-oxygen ions during the mission and would be analyzed to measure solar-oxygen isotopic composition, the highest-priority measurement objective for Genesis.

After three years, scientists at Washington University published detailed neon and argon isotope fractionation findings. Argon and neon isotopes in samples of three types of solar wind (fast, slow, and coronal mass ejections from the Sun’s surface) were captured and quantified. The findings effectively discount some theoretical models of stellar genesis. This more precise data complements knowledge gained from earlier lunar argon measurements.

Kevin McKeegan, UCLA Cosmochemistry Professor, announced on 10 March 2008 that analysis of a silicon wafer from Genesis showed that the Sun has a higher proportion of oxygen-16 than does the Earth. The measurement was made after a beam of cesium atoms was used to remove the upper 20 nm of the wafer. This implies that an unknown process depleted oxygen-16 from the Sun's disk of protoplanetary material
Protoplanetary disk
A protoplanetary disk is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas surrounding a young newly formed star, a T Tauri star, or Herbig Ae/Be star...

 prior to the coalescence of dust grains that formed the Earth.

Unexpectedly, it was not terrestrial desert soil introduced in the crash that proved most difficult to deal with during the sample analysis process but the craft's own flight-introduced compounds such as lubricants and craft-building materials.

Fate of spacecraft bus

After releasing the sample return capsule on September 8, 2004, the spacecraft bus traveled back toward the Earth-Sun Lagrange Point (L1). A trajectory correction maneuver was performed on November 6, 2004, permitting the spacecraft bus to eventually leave L1 if it was not used for an extended mission. Final commands were transmitted to the bus on December 2, 2004, placing Genesis into hibernation. While in this "safe" mode, it will continue transmitting information about its condition, autonomously pointing its solar arrays toward the Sun. The spacecraft bus left L1 around February 1, 2005, staying in a heliocentric orbit leading the Earth.

Mishap Investigation Board (MIB)

A 16-member NASA Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) was appointed, including experts on pyrotechnics
Pyrotechnics is the science of using materials capable of undergoing self-contained and self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions for the production of heat, light, gas, smoke and/or sound...

, avionics, and other specialties. The MIB started its work on September 10, 2004, when it arrived at Dugway Proving Ground. It determined that all scientific hardware meant to be curated by the Johnson Space Center could be released and were not needed for the work of the board. Both JPL and Lockheed Martin began to prepare flight data and other records for the MIB.

It was announced on September 23, 2004, that the capsule, having had the science material extracted, would be moved to the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility near Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado
The City and County of Denver is the capital and the most populous city of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is a consolidated city-county, located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains...

, for MIB use.

A first possible root cause of the failed deployment of the parachutes was announced in an October 14 press release. Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....

 had built the system with an acceleration sensor's internal mechanisms wrongly oriented (a G-switch was installed backwards), and design reviews had not caught the mistake. The intended design was to make an electrical contact inside the sensor at 3 g
The g-force associated with an object is its acceleration relative to free-fall. This acceleration experienced by an object is due to the vector sum of non-gravitational forces acting on an object free to move. The accelerations that are not produced by gravity are termed proper accelerations, and...

 (29 m/s²), maintaining it through the maximum expected 30 g (290 m/s²), and breaking the contact again at 3 g to start the parachute release sequence. Instead, no contact was ever made.

The same general parachute concept was also used on the Stardust
Stardust (spacecraft)
Stardust is a 300-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on February 7, 1999 to study the asteroid 5535 Annefrank and collect samples from the coma of comet Wild 2. The primary mission was completed January 15, 2006, when the sample return capsule returned to Earth...

A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

ary sample return spacecraft, which landed successfully in 2006.

NASA investigation board chair Michael Ryschkewitsch
Michael Ryschkewitsch
Michael Ryschkewitsch is the Chief Engineer of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.-Education & Career:Michael Ryschkewitsch earned a B.S. in physics from the University of Florida, Gainesville, and a Ph.D. from Duke University...

 noted that none of the stringent review procedures at NASA had picked up a mistake, saying, "It would be very easy to mix this up."

This mishap is similar to the original event that inspired Edward A. Murphy, Jr. to formulate the now-famous Murphy's Law
Murphy's law
Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong". - History :The perceived perversity of the universe has long been a subject of comment, and precursors to the modern version of Murphy's law are not hard to find. Recent significant...

: an accelerometer
An accelerometer is a device that measures proper acceleration, also called the four-acceleration. This is not necessarily the same as the coordinate acceleration , but is rather the type of acceleration associated with the phenomenon of weight experienced by a test mass that resides in the frame...

installed backwards. On January 6, 2006, Ryschkewitsch revealed that a pre-test procedure on the craft was skipped by Lockheed Martin, and he noted that the test could have easily detected the problem.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.