Genesis Mission Fails but CFRP Capsule Remains Intact

09 September 2004

The Genesis mission carrying space capsule captured particles blown off the Sun crashed back to Earth in the Utah desert after its parachutes failed to open on Wednesday.

The Genesis capsule crashed to the ground at a speed of 193 mph near Granite Peak in the Utah desert, USA.

""We have the capsule,"" said Genesis project manager Don Sweetnam of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. ""It is on the ground. We have previously written procedures and tools at our disposal for such an event. We are beginning capsule recovery operations at this time.""

By the time the capsule entered Earth's atmosphere, the flight crews tasked to capture Genesis were already in the air. Once it was confirmed the capsule touched down out on the range, the flight crews were guided toward the site to initiate a previously developed contingency plan. They landed close to the capsule and per the plan, began to document the capsule and the area.

""For the velocity of the impact, I thought there was surprisingly little damage,"" said Roy Haggard of Vertigo Inc., California, who took part in the initial reconnaissance of the capsule. ""I observed the capsule penetrated the soil about 50 percent of its diameter. The shell had been breached about three inches and I could see the science canister inside and that also appeared to have a small breach,"" he said.

Professor Colin Pillinger, of UK’s Open University (OU), which was to have analysed some of the Genesis samples, said the situation looked grave because the science samples should have been opened up only in a clean-room.

""The outer part of the spacecraft is carbon fibre and that is very resilient - it is basically in one piece. There could be fragments inside there that still contained some kind of scientific information. But the contamination from the desert is going to be a killer at the end of the day for the scientists.""

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 designed to be returned for analysis by Earth-bound scientists.

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