Genesis Solar Wind Sample Return
Launch Date: August 08, 2001
Mission Project Home Page - http://genesismission.jpl.nasa.gov/
The primary objective of the Genesis mission was to collect samples of solar wind particles and return them to Earth for detailed analysis. The science objectives were to obtain precise measurements of solar isotopic and elemental abundances and provide a reservoir of solar matter for future scientific analysis. Some of the primary scientific objectives were to obtain precise measurements of isotope ratios of oxygen, nitrogen, and noble gases in the different phases of solar activity.
Although most of the solar wind is comprised of hydrogen, Genesis' goal was to capture samples of all elements in the periodic table to allow a detailed study of the Sun's composition. The collectors were made of a variety of ultrapure materials (including silicon, gold, sapphire, and diamond) selected for their utility in collecting specific elements in the solar wind.
Such data are crucial for improving theories about the origin of the Sun and the planets, which formed from the same primordial dust cloud. The samples were returned to Earth in September 2004, but the capsule's two parachutes did not deploy and it hit the ground hard. The recovered samples and fragments were transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center where the Genesis science team and curators have developed techniques to remove or avoid the contaminants produced by the crash and spacecraft outgassing. Despite the added complications, these tiny samples are proving their worth and several papers have already been published on the very difficult measurements of solar wind and their meaning.