Volume: 02, Issue: 14 09/08/2004 
A photographer captures the Genesis space capsule after it crashed into the Utah Desert.  Image courtesy NASA TV.
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The Genesis space capsule plummeted through the sky and crashed into the desert floor when its parachutes failed to deploy after reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. Image courtesy NASA TV.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Kick off the 2004-05 School Year with the Planetary Times
Hurricane Frances Leaves Her Mark
Scientists Discover New Class of Extrasolar Planets
Cassini Unlocking Saturn’s Secrets
NASA Offers Science Competitions for Students

Genesis Space Capsule Slams into Desert Floor

Scientists awaiting the much-anticipated return of NASA's Genesis space capsule suffered a devastating blow on Sept. 8 as they watched the capsule crash into the Utah desert. The capsule's parachute failed to deploy, sending the probe on an irreversible tailspin. The status of Genesis' valuable contents, samples of solar wind, remains unclear for the moment.

Researchers were eagerly awaiting samples from the sun that Genesis carried. They were hoping the valuable samples would give more insight into the composition of the sun and provide clues about our solar system's origin. The mission was especially noteworthy because no extraterrestrial materials have been brought back to Earth since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

NASA had hoped to capture Genesis as it re-entered Earth's atmosphere. Two helicopters and crew were scheduled to recover the sample return capsule in midair and deliver it to Earth safely so that scientists could study the solar wind samples onboard.

Two minutes and seven seconds after atmospheric entry, while still flying supersonically, the capsule was suppose to deploy a drogue parachute at 33 kilometers (108,000 feet) altitude. Six minutes after that, the main parachute, a parafoil, should have deployed 6.1 kilometers (20,000 feet) up. Then, two helicopters and their flight crews were scheduled to snatch the sample return capsule.

Unfortunately, the Genesis sample return capsule's drogue and parafoil did not deploy as planned, resulting in the capsule impacting the ground in the Utah desert. The condition of the sample return capsule is currently being assessed by the recovery team. Additionally, a spacecraft contingency has been declared by NASA, resulting in the formation of a “mishap review board.”

The Genesis mission was launched in August 2001 on a journey to capture samples from the storehouse of 99 percent of all the material in our solar system -- the Sun. The samples of solar wind particles, collected on ultra-pure wafers of gold, sapphire, silicon and diamond, were planned to undergo analysis by Earth-bound scientists.

For more information, go to: http://www.genesismission.org/ .

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