JPL/Martha J. Heil
NASA's Genesis spacecraft launched flawlessly atop a Delta 7326 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station at 12:13:40 p.m. EDT (9:13:40 a.m. PDT) today.
Genesis will become the first mission ever to return a sample of extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon when it catches a piece of the Sun to return to Earth.
The Genesis team reported that the spacecraft was in excellent health and that its power and temperature levels are normal. The spacecraft is in communication with NASA's Deep Space Network, and is controlled through the mission operations area at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., where the mission is managed.
At 64 minutes, 12 seconds into the mission - or 1:17 p.m. EDT - the Genesis spacecraft separated from the Delta's third stage. Immediately after separation, Genesis' solar arrays unfolded and pointed toward the Sun. The spacecraft's signal was successfully acquired by the NASA Deep Space Network complex at Goldstone, Ca., 85 minutes after launch at 1:38 p.m. EST.
In September, Genesis will arrive at a point where the gravities of the Sun and Earth are balanced. It will open its collector arrays and begin to monitor and collect the solar wind, ions flowing from the outer layer of the Sun. The samples of solar wind it returns will help scientists understand how the solar system evolved.
In September 2004, Genesis will return to Earth. The capsule in which the samples are sealed will plummet to Earth, slow with the aid of a parachute and be snagged in mid-air by a helicopter. The precious samples will be airlifted to the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, where they will be distributed for scientific analysis and safely curated in order to be available for the next century of planetary science studies.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Genesis mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo., designed and built the spacecraft and will operate it jointly with JPL. Major portions of the payload design and fabrication were carried out at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.