Opening the Lid on Genesis

 

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"This may result in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat," added Dr. Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a member of the Genesis science team. "We are very encouraged."
Credit:NASA

The NASA Genesis Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) arrived at Dugway Proving Ground (DPG), Utah, September 10, to take charge of the investigation. The Genesis Sample Return Capsule (SRC) impacted the ground after its drogue and parafoil systems failed to deploy during re-entry September 8. Dr. Michael Ryschkewitsch is the leader of the MIB.

Thanks to work by the Genesis Project Team, functioning as an initial response team, the wreckage of the SRC and its contents of scientific samples were recovered from the dry lakebed. The science team continues work securing and curating the recovered sample materials, working independently from the activities of the MIB.

Since the initial recovery of the hardware, an inventory was made of the impact crater, both by visual examination and metal detector, to ensure no significant wreckage remains. The recovery team finished its work and turned the impact crater site back over to the Utah army facility.

The Genesis team has sent its first scientific sample from the clean-room at the U.S. Army Proving Ground, to a co-investigator from UC Berkeley, NASA announced Thursday. Nishizumi Kunihiko will receive the sample, the first batch of "lid foils’ from the sample return capsule.

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Wafer fragments post-recovery. "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," he said.
Credit:NASA/JPL

"It appears that we have recovered about 75 to 80 percent of these lid foils," said Don Sweetnam, the project manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a written statement.

JPL researchers took a special fixture to the clean-room Monday to help researchers handle the stack of collector arrays within the capsule’s canister. The researchers were able to remove the stack as a single piece, JPL said. And one completely intact hexagonal wafer was preserved from the top array in the stack.

The Genesis team finalized plans for preparing and transporting the capsule wreckage to Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ facilities in Denver, where the spacecraft was built and tested.

Its cargo of particles captured from the sun should still yield useful information, according to Qing-Zhu Yin, a planetary scientist at UC Davis.

Yin, who is not directly affiliated with the Genesis mission, studies the composition of meteorites to learn about the formation of the solar system. Like the Genesis capsule, meteorites have a hard landing on the Earth, but can still yield useful information, he said.

By looking at the ratio of oxygen-16, -17 and -18 isotopes in the solar particles, scientists should be able to test theories about how the sun and planets formed. Oxygen-16 is by far the most common. The Earth, moon, Mars and some meteorites all have slightly different ratios of the three isotopes.

The oxygen makeup of the sun, which contains about 99.9 percent of all the mass in the solar system, is much harder to measure. The Genesis spacecraft was built to answer that question by collecting particles blown out from the sun.

In a "Perspectives" article in the Sept. 17 issue of the journal Science, Yin describes new theories about local variations in oxygen isotopes in the vast dust and gas cloud around the young sun. Free oxygen was released when ultraviolet light hit carbon monoxide gas. Because oxygen-16 was so abundant, it was released mostly near the surface of the cloud, but breakdown of carbon monoxide containing less abundant oxygen-17 or -18 continued deeper into the cloud.

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Carefully dissecting the pod. 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 200 mph.
Credit:NASA

Free oxygen and hydrogen formed water that froze onto dust grains and eventually formed into planets, preserving the oxygen-17 and -18 signature, Yin said. The models predict that the Sun itself should have a much lower ratio of oxygen-17 and -18 to oxygen-16 than the rocky planets, a prediction that, according to Yin, can still be tested by Genesis and future missions.

The MIB has determined all the science-specific hardware is not relevant to the Board’s work in determining the causes of the mishap. That hardware was released to the Project’s Science and Curation Team for continued processing. At the request of the Board, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and Lockheed Martin have begun the process of sorting and assembling the Genesis records and data.

 

 


Related Web Pages

Reentry Campaign
Genesis Suffers a Crash Landing
The Spillproof Earth
Capturing the Solar Wind
Genesis Timeline
Extraterrestrial Sample Return