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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The launch of NASA’s Genesis solar probe has been delayed until Wednesday at the earliest because of concerns over a pair of power converters on the spacecraft.

Genesis was supposed to lift off Monday on a three-year mission to collect and return tiny particles of the sun. But mission managers grounded the spacecraft Sunday night to await test results.

The trouble cropped up last week when NASA learned that two similar power converters failed after being exposed to high radiation levels during testing in France.

The converters on Genesis, part of the star-tracking navigation system, should be exposed to far less radiation from solar flares during the 20 million-mile round-trip journey. But NASA wants to make sure they will not be overly susceptible to radiation before clearing the spacecraft for flight.

“We believe that we’re OK,” project manager Chet Sasaki said Monday. “But it’s such a small sample size that we begin to wonder whether or not it’s good enough. I don’t think the management wants to launch with their fingers crossed.”

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., which built Genesis, plans to test six similar power converters at its Denver laboratories by Wednesday. Repairs, if required, would involve wrapping aluminum or other radiation shielding around the base of Genesis’ two star trackers.

Once launched, Genesis will travel 1 million miles from Earth and spend 21/2 years orbiting an imaginary point and collecting atoms from the solar wind streaming away from the sun.

These solar particles will be the first extraterrestrial samples returned to Earth since the Apollo astronauts delivered moon rocks from 1969 through 1972. The capsule containing the precious atoms will descend by parachute and parafoil over Utah in 2004.

Scientists hope to better understand the origin of the solar system by studying the atoms.


Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

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