The Genesis spacecraft mission, launched in August 2001 by NASA, was designed to observe the solar wind, particles coming from the sun, entrap a sample of those particles on substrates and safely return them to Earth. The spacecraft travelled to a point about 1.5 million kilometers (or about 1 million miles) from Earth called Lagrange point, L1, where the gravitational force of the earth is matched by that of the sun. At this location the Genesis spacecraft was well outside of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic environment, allowing it to collect a ‘pristine’ sample of the solar wind. Genesis’ overall flight path resembled a series of loops (Fig. 1): first it circled five times around L1, called Halo orbit, where it remained for 850 days, then it moved back for a short loop around the opposite Lagrange point, L2, in order to position the spacecraft for a daylight return to Earth.
On board the spacecraft, ions from the solar-wind impacted the collectors at speeds over 200 km/sec and buried themselves in specially-selected materials. These samples were sealed in enclosures for their safe return to Earth in a sample-return capsule (SRC). Then during the return-to-Earth stage something went horribly wrong. On NASA’s Genesis Search for Origins website it is described as follows.1
On 8 September 2004 the SRC entered Earth’s atmosphere as planned, but its gravity switches were oriented incorrectly as the result of a design error and the parachute system failed to deploy. The high-speed wreck compromised the SRC and shattered many of the Genesis collectors.
The samples were scattered and shattered. But all was not lost it seemed.
However, the Genesis Preliminary Examination Team was able to show that, because the solar-wind ions were buried beneath the surface of the collectors, it is possible to detect and quantify elements in the solar-wind.1
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