(ORDO NEWS) — One of NASA’s posts on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website is an iconic reminder of the setbacks in our history of space travel.
“A flying saucer from space crash-landed in the Utah desert after being detected by radar,” the photo, published in November 2018, reads, although NASA does not hint at the presence of aliens here.
The shattered saucer, half buried in the desert sand, was actually the return capsule of the Genesis spacecraft. And she shouldn’t have landed so violently.
Launched on August 8, 2001, the Genesis mission was an ambitious attempt by the space agency to send a spacecraft into our star’s solar wind, collect samples, and return them to Earth.
By collecting data on the composition of charged particles emanating from the sun’s corona, the researchers hoped to pinpoint the composition of the star and learn more about the elements that were around when the planets of the solar system formed.
To bring us solar wind samples, Genesis was equipped with a sample return capsule containing a compartment containing solar wind materials collected over two years orbiting Lagrange Point 1, one of the points in space where gravity from the Earth and the Sun are precisely balanced.
The ship caught the solar wind into a series of collector grids, each loaded with high purity materials such as aluminum, sapphire, silicon and even gold.
Five days later, this sample capsule and its precious tracts crashed into the ground in Utah at 310 km / h.
As you can imagine, the accident resulted in serious damage, destroying several arrays and contaminating the precious cargo inside.
After the sample capsule was removed from the “flying saucer”, the project team began to search for everything that could still be extracted and studied.
Fortunately, the Genesis mission was not completely ruined, even after the dramatic arrival of the sample capsule. Some of the durable collector materials survived, and the researchers were able to clean the surfaces without damaging the solar material embedded in them.
Through the mission, we learned unprecedented details about the composition of the sun and the differences in elements between our star and the inner planets of the solar system.
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