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Photographers take aim as the Boeing Delta II rocket propels NASA’s Genesis spacecraft into the sky on a journey to collect and return to Earth just 10 to 20 micrograms of solar wind, invisible charged particles that flow outward from the Sun.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA

In the Beginning... (Updated!)
News story originally written on August 14, 2001

On August 8, 2001, NASA launched the next of its robotic space missions: The Genesis mission. Genesis had a perfect launch aboard its Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral. Everything with the mission continues to go smoothly. The Genesis spacecraft is now traveling toward the Sun until it reaches a position where the gravitational pulls from the Earth and Sun are balanced.

Once in position, the Genesis craft will begin to capture particles that make up the solar wind. These particles are tiny, charged bits of matter than have been thrown out by the Sun. In April, 2004, after almost three years of collecting material, the spacecraft will return to Earth. The collected solar material will be recovered in a dramatic, mid-air helicopter capture, so that the impact of landing does not damage the samples. The Genesis mission will be the first mission to collect and return material from beyond the orbit of the Moon.

Studying these particles should help answer fundamental questions about the elements that make up the Sun and about the birth of our solar system. The mission should provide enough material to last for decades of research, which means that further studies of the Sun and its composition will also be possible.

Last modified August 14, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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