PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Diane Ainsworth
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEOctober 23, 1997
'GENESIS' MISSION NAMED NEXT DISCOVERY PROGRAM FLIGHT
A JPL-teamed mission to gather and return samples of the
solar wind to Earth has been selected as the next flight in
NASA's Discovery program of lower cost, highly focused scientific
The Genesis mission is designed to collect samples of the
solar wind and return them to laboratories on Earth for detailed
analysis. The $216 million mission, led by Dr. Donald Burnett of
the California Institute of Technology, will be launched in
January 2001 and return isotopes of oxygen, nitrogen, the noble
gases, and other elements of the solar wind via an airborne
capture vehicle as it plummets toward the floor of the Utah
desert in August 2003.
"The Genesis mission is a crucial step in the future of
planetary exploration," said Burnett, principal investigator of
the mission. "By bringing back solar matter that we can analyze
in laboratories on Earth, we will be providing the fundamental
data to understand how planets formed in the early history of our
The Genesis payload is comprised of electron and ion
monitors, an ion concentrator and collector arrays to capture
particles of the solar wind, which streams outward from the Sun,
said Chet Sasaki, Genesis project manager at JPL. "These
particles will embed themselves in the collector arrays, which
are made primarily of extremely high purity silicon. The
collector arrays will later be stowed and returned using a sample
return capsule which will separate from the spacecraft and
parachute through Earth's atmosphere. Helicopters will catch the
vehicle before it hits the ground."
JPL, which will manage the mission for Burnett at Caltech,
will work with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin
Astronautics, Denver, to develop the spacecraft. Other partners
in the mission are Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico,
which will furnish portions of the payload, and the NASA Johnson
Space Center, Houston, which will oversee contamination control
issues associated with the payload before, during and after the
sample is returned to Earth.
The selection of this mission is the second step of a two-
step process. In the first step, NASA selected five proposals in
April 1997 for detailed four-month feasibility studies. Funded
by NASA at $350,000 each, these studies focused on cost,
management and technical plans, including small business
involvement and educational outreach.
The selected proposals were among 34 proposals originally
submitted to NASA in December 1996, in response to a Discovery
announcement of opportunity issued on Sept. 20, 1996. As stated
in the announcement of opportunity, the initial cost estimates
were allowed to grow by a maximum of 20 percent between the April
selection and the detailed final proposals.
"This was a very difficult selection, given the first-class
science proposed by all five teams," said Dr. Wesley Huntress,
associate administrator for NASA's Office of Space Science,
Washington, DC. "We picked two based on our distribution of
resources and the excellent fit of the timetables for these
missions with other robotic space science explorers. Genesis will
give us a sample of the Sun as we are preparing to receive
samples of a comet and asteroid from other missions. A second
Discovery mission, CONTOUR, will help us better understand the
breadth of the 'family of comets,' which are believed to be quite
individual in their properties."
CONTOUR (or the Comet Nucleus Tour) was also chosen this
year for development under the auspices of the Discovery program.
CONTOUR, which will be tracked by JPL's deep space tracking
facilities, will take images and comparative spectral maps of at
least three comet nuclei and analyze the dust flowing from them.
CONTOUR will be led by Dr. Joseph Veverka of Cornell
University, Ithaca, NY, at a total cost to NASA of $154 million.
It is scheduled for launch in July 2002, with its first comet
flyby to occur in November 2003. This flyby of Comet Encke at a
distance of about 100 kilometers (60 miles) will be followed by
similar encounters with Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 in June 2006
and Comet d'Arrest in August 2008.
Genesis and CONTOUR follow four previously selected NASA
Discovery missions. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
spacecraft was launched in February 1996 and returned images of
the asteroid Mathilde from a distant flyby in June of this year,
on its way to orbit the asteroid Eros in early 1999. The Mars
Pathfinder lander, carrying a small robotic rover named
Sojourner, touched down on the surface of Mars on July 4, and
since has returned hundreds of images and thousands of
measurements of the Martian environment.
The Lunar Prospector orbiter mission to map the composition
and gravity field of Earth's moon is scheduled for launch in
January 1998, and the Stardust mission is designed to gather dust
from Comet Wild-2 in 2004 and return it to Earth, following a
planned February 1999 launch.
The California Institute of Technology manages the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory for NASA.