Space Flawed Revelations? Contamination may undermine Genesis data By Barry E. DiGregorio NASA/JPL; USAF 388 RANGE SQUADRON After traveling 1.5 million kilometers beyond Earth to obtain bits of the solar wind, NASA's first automated sample-return mission, Genesis, ended in a crash in the Utah desert on September 8. Researchers do not know just why the parafoil failed to deploy, but they say they feel confident that they can still accomplish the major goals of the mission despite the damaged capsule. Any conclusion stemming from the mission, however, may remain dubious because of the mere possibility of contamination. Genesis had onboard an estimated 20 micrograms of solar-wind particles collected over three years in space. These particles came from the sun's visible surface, called the photosphere. Ninety-nine percent of it consists of the original material from the primitive nebula that coalesced into the sun and planets; an analysis of the samples would therefore provide a baseline of information about the building blocks of our solar system. THIS ARTICLE IS ONLY AVAILABLE AS A PDF. or subscribe to access the full article. Already a subscriber or purchased this issue? Sign In ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.