The NASA Genesis probe was a spacecraft sent out as part of the Genesis mission to collect samples of solar wind. The intention of the mission was to help establish the composition and the formation process of the Solar System by collecting direct samples of the solar nebula.
The craft was launched on August 8, 2001, and sent to orbit at Lagrangian point L1, a region between the earth and the Sun where the gravity of both bodies is balanced. During its orbit the craft collected solar wind samples during specific time periods when the solar winds had different speeds, thus being able to collate data on different solar processes and activities. It supported previous data obtained from the Moon during the Apollo moon exploration missions. However, Genesis crashed upon re-entry on September 4, 2004, landing in the Utah desert, when its drogue parachute and parafoil did not deploy. Investigations into the deployment failure found that the mishap was due to an inverted sensor that had not been detected during the design and verification stages of construction .
Recovered foils from the craft were able to help determine the isotopic composition of the Sun . On 10 March 2008, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, it was confirmed that despite the crash landing, crucial data were able to be salvaged from the craft and the major scientific objectives of the mission would be met.
The Genesis mission was the fifth of NASA's Discovery missions, and a collaboration between NASA and its primary partners the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Planetary scientist Don Burnett designed the project to collect a sample of solar material.
One current theory on the development of the Solar System is that planets are formed from a result of collisions of material from the solar nebula, and that studying this material would answer larger questions as to the original composition and subsequent formation of the planets. Samples of solar oxygen had previously been extracted from lunar soil, as the lack of an atmosphere meant there is no shield on the Moon from solar wind. However, two major studies of these samples provided contradictory conclusions. The direct sampling of solar material from the Genesis mission would provide more conclusive data to resolve the conflict.
Successful extraction and analysis of the Genesis data would provide more information on the average chemical composition of the solar system, precise isotopic abundances, a reservoir of solar material and independent data on the three different solar wind regimes.
Due to a largely successful recovery operation, scientists were still able to extract relevant data from the salvaged foils to complete their analyses. As a result of the board investigation into the landing failure, it was determined that rather than increasing the amount of checks and reviews in the technical process, existing processes could be improved to become more effective and to address some of the assumptions that had resulted in the design oversight.
Notes and references
- http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/wlagran.html Further detail about Lagrangian points
- http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/149414main_Genesis_MIB.pdf Genesis Landing Mission Failure Report and Recommendations (pdf file)
- http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/318/5849/433 A. Meshik et al. Science 318, 433–435; 2007 Accessed 15 March, 2008
- http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080313/full/452259a.html, accessed 15 March 2008
- Hashizume, K. & Chaussidon, M. Nature 434, 619–622 (2005)
- Ireland, T. R. , Holden, P. , Norman, M. D. & Clark, J. Nature 440, 776–778 (2006).
- Summary of objectives from page 5 of the Genesis Mishap Report.