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Scientists Recover Important Samples from Genesis Capsule - 2004-09-21

A spokesman for the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says scientists have recovered important samples from the Genesis sun exploration capsule that crash-landed nearly two weeks ago. Much of what was at first feared lost has now been found.

When the world last saw Genesis, the capsule was hurtling earthward. A helicopter was supposed to snag the capsule's parachute. But the chute failed to deploy, and Genesis crashed on the desert floor, breaking open and, it was feared, exposing its cargo to contamination.

That cargo had taken more than three years to assemble. Shortly after launch in August of 2001, the capsule began collecting tiny particles from the solar wind, the molecular matter that streams outward from the sun. Scientists are eager to study these particles because they show how the sun was formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

Recovery specialists transferred the capsule's remains to a so-called "super-clean-room" at the army's Dugway Proving Ground in the state of Utah - where, says NASA's Chris Jones, scientists were pleased with what they found.

"The scientists have broken down in priority order the collectors that they're looking for. And the highest priority collectors in fact have been found ... virtually undisturbed," says Mr. Jones.

The collected particles were stored on tightly-packed layers of wafer-thin disks. The outer layers broke and became contaminated - but the inner ones survived.

"There's a large foil collector that appears to be in good shape and the wafers that everybody talks about, of which there are many, have been, while broken, seem to be in large enough pieces so that they in fact can be analyzed for solar wind," adds Mr. Jones.

Scientists say that Genesis's solar wind study is important because it is among several designed to plan for man's long-term survivability in space, on missions to Mars and beyond.