The Genesis spacecraft, launched on August 8th, reached its destination 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth. For the next 29 months it will reside there, collecting solar material.

Courtesy JPL/LMA.

On November 16th the Genesis
spacecraft reached its destination — Earth's L1 Lagrangian
point, 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 miles) away — and has begun
to collect material from the solar wind. From its new home, Genesis
will cast a "net" of ultrapure silicon and sapphire wafers in the hopes
to capture and return to Earth between 10 to 20 micrograms of coronal

However, the mission may be in jeopardy due to a malfunctioning
thermal radiator on the sample-return capsule. Engineers at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory
believe that a contaminant in the radiator's
white paint has degraded after constant exposure to ultraviolet sunlight
and, as a result, ruined the radiator's ability to dissipate heat. Consequently,
the battery needed to operate the return capsule in the critical final
hour of the mission is overheating well beyond its design limit. The
beleaguered battery should survive this ordeal, but no one will know
for sure until the parachute deploys during Genesis' 10½-km-per-second
reentry above the Utah desert in September 2004. Meanwhile, the capsule's
lid, having opened to allow the collector panels to deploy, is currently
being kept almost closed to shade the battery as best as possible.


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