Scientists who conducted the preliminary assessment of the Genesis canister are encouraged by what they see. They believe it may be possible to achieve the most important portions of their science objectives.
Genesis was a solar-wind sample return mission that collected ions on large-area ultrapure substrates between November 30, 2001, and April 1, 2004 at the L1 point. The solar-wind ions embedded themselves in the top 100 nm of ultrapure substrates that were returned to Earth by capsule September 8, 2004.
A key aspect of Genesis mission was to collect separate samples of different types of solar wind--interstream, coronal hole, and coronal mass ejection. To distinguish these types in real time the spacecraft is equipped with a Genesis Electron Monitor (GEM) and a Genesis Ion Monitor (GIM). These in-situ spectrometers had dual roles of a) providing raw data to a science algorithm in the spacecraft C&DH unit to command the collection arrays, and b) providing a solar-wind plasma data set available to the Space Physics community. This website exists to provide you with the GIM & GEM data set. In addition to L1 data, the Monitors collected data during the outbound phase of the mission, from August 24 to mid-November, 2001, and during the return phase, between April 1 and August 4, 2004, during which Genesis flew by the Earth and out to the L2 point.
"We are bouncing back from a hard landing, and spirits are picking up again," said Orlando Figueroa, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"This may result in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat," added Dr. Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a member of the Genesis science team. "We are very encouraged." Based on initial inspection, it is possible a repository of solar wind materials may have survived that will keep the science community busy for some time.
"We are pleased and encouraged by the preliminary inspection," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "The outstanding design and sturdy construction of Genesis may yield the important scientific results we hoped for from the mission."
"I want to emphasize the excellent work by the navigation team to bring the capsule back exactly on target was key in our ability to recover the science," said Andrew Dantzler, director of the Solar System Division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "In addition, the robustness of the design of the spacecraft was the reason it could take such a hard landing and still give us a chance to recover the samples."
The mission's main priority is to measure oxygen isotopes to determine which of several theories is correct regarding the role of oxygen in the formation of the solar system. Scientists hope to determine this with isotopes collected in the four target segments of the solar wind concentrator carried by the Genesis spacecraft. "From our initial look, we can see that two of the four concentrator segments are in place, and all four may be intact," Wiens said.
The mission's second priority is to analyze nitrogen isotopes that will help us understand how the atmospheres of the planets in our solar system evolved. "These isotopes will be analyzed using gold foil, which we have also found intact," Wiens said.
Other samples of solar winds are contained on hexagonal wafers. It appears these are all or nearly all broken, but sizable pieces will be recovered, and some are still mounted in their holders. "We won't really know how many can be recovered for some time, but we are far more hopeful important science can be conducted than we were on Wednesday," Wiens said.
Another type of collector material, foils contained on the canister's lid, were designed to collect other isotopes in the solar wind. It appears approximately three-fourths of these are recoverable, according to Dr. Dave Lindstrom, mission program scientist at NASA Headquarters. However, these foils have been exposed to elements of the Utah desert.
The Genesis sample return capsule landed well within the projected ellipse path in the Utah Test & Training Range on Sept. 8, but its parachutes did not open. It impacted the ground at nearly 320 kilometers per hour (nearly 200 miles per hour). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Genesis mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.
Source: NASA, LANL
Explore further: Dawn spacecraft captures best-ever view of dwarf planet