NASA probe returning with solar booty
(SPACE.com) -- Since October 2001, NASA's Genesis spacecraft has exposed its collector arrays made from sapphire, silicon, gold and diamond to the solar wind.
That collection of pristine particles from the sun came to an end last week, when NASA's Genesis team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, ordered the spacecraft's collectors deactivated and stowed. The closeout process was completed when Genesis closed and sealed the spacecraft's sample-return capsule.
NASA's Genesis mission was launched in August 2001 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Three months and about one million miles later, the spacecraft began to amass solar wind particles on hexagonal wafer-shaped collectors made of pure silicon, gold, sapphire and diamond.
Later this month, Genesis will execute the first in a series of trajectory maneuvers that will place the spacecraft on a route toward Earth. On September 8, 2004, the spacecraft will dispatch a sample-return capsule containing its solar booty. The capsule will re-enter Earth's atmosphere for a planned landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.
To preserve the delicate solar particles in their matrix of gold, sapphire and diamond, specially trained helicopter pilots will snag the return capsule from mid-air using giant hooks. The flight crews for the two helicopters assigned for the capture and return of Genesis are former military aviators, Hollywood stunt pilots and an active-duty Air Force test pilot.
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