Press Release

NASA Genesis Mission To Return With a Piece of the Sun

By SpaceRef Editor
August 19, 2004
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NASA Genesis Mission To Return With a Piece of the Sun

In a dramatic ending that marks a beginning in scientific research,
NASA’s Genesis spacecraft is set to swing by Earth and jettison a
sample return capsule filled with particles of the Sun that may
ultimately tell us more about the genesis of our solar system.

“The Genesis mission — to capture a piece of the Sun and return it to
Earth — is truly in the NASA spirit: a bold, inspiring mission that
makes a fundamental contribution to scientific knowledge,” said Steven
Brody, NASA’s program executive for the Genesis mission, NASA
Headquarters, Washington.

On September 8, 2004, the drama will unfold over the skies of central
Utah when the spacecraft’s sample return capsule will be snagged in
midair by helicopter. The rendezvous will occur at the Air Force’s
Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City.

“What a prize Genesis will be,” said Genesis Principal Investigator
Dr. Don Burnett of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena,
Calif. “Our spacecraft has logged almost 27 months far beyond the
moon’s orbit, collecting atoms from the Sun. With it, we should be
able to say what the Sun is composed of, at a level of precision for
planetary science purposes that has never been seen before.”

The prizes Burnett and company are waiting for are hexagonal wafers of
pure silicon, gold, sapphire, diamond and other materials that have
served as a celestial prison for their samples of solar wind
particles. These wafers have weathered 26-plus months in deep space
and are now safely stowed in the return capsule. If the capsule were
to descend all the way to the ground, some might fracture or break
away from their mountings; hence, the midair retrieval by helicopter,
with crew members including some who have performed helicopter stunt
work for Hollywood.

“These guys fly in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies,” said Don
Sweetnam, Genesis project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, Calif. “But this time, the Genesis capsule will be the

The Genesis capsule — carrying the agency’s first sample return since
the final Apollo lunar mission in 1972, and the first material
collected beyond the Moon — will enter Earth’s atmosphere at 9:55 am
Mountain Time. Two minutes and seven seconds after atmospheric entry,
while still flying supersonically, the capsule will deploy a drogue
parachute at 33 kilometers (108,000 feet) altitude. Six minutes after
that, the main parachute, a parafoil, will deploy 6.1 kilometers
(20,000 feet) up. Waiting below will be two helicopters and their
flight crews looking for their chance to grab a piece of the Sun.

“Each helicopter will carry a crew of three,” said Roy Haggard, chief
executive officer of Vertigo Inc. and director of flight operations
for the lead helicopter. “The lead helicopter will deploy an
eighteen-and-a-half foot long pole with what you could best describe
as an oversized, Space-Age fishing hook on its end. When we make the
approach we want the helicopter skids to be about eight feet above the
top of the parafoil. If for some reason the capture is not successful,
the second helicopter is 1,000 feet behind us and setting up for its
approach. We estimate we will have five opportunities to achieve

The helicopter that does achieve capture will carry the sample
canister to a clean room at the Michael Army Air Field at the U.S.
Army Dugway Proving Ground, where scientists await their cosmic prize.
The samples will then be moved to a special laboratory at NASA’s
Johnson Space Center, Houston, where they will be preserved and
studied by scientists for many years to come.

“I understand much of the interest is in how we retrieve Genesis,”
added Burnett. “But to me the excitement really begins when scientists
from around the world get hold of those samples for their research.
That will be something.”

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the
Genesis mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the
spacecraft. Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA’s Johnson Space
Center contributed to Genesis payload development, and the Johnson
Space Center will curate the sample and support analysis and sample

More detailed background on the mission is available at .

SpaceRef staff editor.