Home>News Center>World
         
 

NASA space capsule crashes into desert
(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-09-09 00:47

The Genesis space capsule, which had orbited the sun for more than three years in an attempt to find clues to the origin of the solar system, crashed to Earth on Wednesday after its parachute failed to deploy.


A member of the Genesis Sample Return team, shown in this image taken from video, looks at the capsule after it fell to earth without deploying its parachute Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, in  Utah's west desert, Dugway Proving Ground. The Genesis space capsule, which had orbited the sun for more than three years in an attempt to find clues to the origin of the solar system, crashed to Earth on Wednesday after its parachute failed to deploy. [Reuters]


It wasn't immediately known whether the cosmic samples had been destroyed. NASA officials believed the fragile disks that held the atoms would shatter even if the capsule hit the ground with a parachute.

"We're going to get the pieces out," said Roger Wiens, a payload leader for Los Alamos National Laboratory. "It's going to be a lot tougher to sort out the pieces of broken material."

Hollywood stunt pilots had taken off in helicopters to hook the parachute, but the refrigerator-sized capsule holding a set of fragile disks containing billions of atoms collected from solar wind hit the desert floor without the parachute opening.

This image from television shows the Genesis space capsule after it crashed in Utah's west desert at the Dugway Proving Ground, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004. [AP]
This image from television shows the Genesis space capsule after it crashed in Utah's west desert at the Dugway Proving Ground, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004. [AP]

The capsule was returning after more than three years in space as part of six-year project that cost $260 million.

The copters were supposed to snatch the capsule's parachute with a hook as it floated down at 400 feet a minute, or more than 6 feet per second.


Two Hollywood stunt pilots and a space capsule full of stardust were on track for a historic mid-air encounter above the Utah desert on September 8, 2004 at the end of a three-year mission to probe the origins of the solar system. The Genesis spacecraft was expected to swing by Earth and jettison a capsule containing particles that may yield insights about the early formation of planets. [Reuters]

Scientists hoped the capsule's charged atoms a "billion billion" of them would reveal clues about the origin and evolution of our solar system, said Don Burnett, Genesis principal investigator and a nuclear geochemist at California Institute of Technology.

"We have for years wanted to know the composition of the sun," Burnett said before the crash. He said scientists had expected to analyze the material "one atom at a time."

Genesis had been moving in tandem with Earth outside its magnetic shield on three orbits of the sun.

Cliff Fleming, the lead helicopter pilot, and backup pilot Dan Rudert had replicated the retrieval in dozens of practice runs. Fleming and Rudert, stunt pilots by trade, were drafted for the mission because of their expertise flying high and capturing objects. Fleming has swooped after sky surfers in the action movie "XXX" and towed actor Pierce Brosnan through the air in "Dante's Peak." He just worked on "Batman 4."

The Genesis mission, launched in 2001, marked the first time NASA has collected any objects from farther than the moon for retrieval to Earth, said Roy Haggard, Genesis' flight operations chief and CEO of Vertigo Inc., which designed the capture system.

Together, the charged atoms captured over 884 days on the capsule's disks of gold, sapphire, diamond and silicone were no bigger than a few grains of salt, but scientists say that would be enough to reconstruct the chemical origin of the sun and its family of planets.

Scientists had expected to study the material for five more years.



 
  Today's Top News     Top World News
 

Wu Yi: China to go further than WTO promises

 

   
 

SW China floods have killed at least 172

 

   
 

Elders' problems centrestage at forum

 

   
 

Further opening in banking sector pledged

 

   
 

Russia vows to attack 'terror' worldwide

 

   
 

Presidents promote growth with Gabon

 

   
  Russia vows to attack 'terror' worldwide
   
  World wants Bush out of the White House: Poll
   
  AP: Thousands of Iraqis estimated killed
   
  Powerful storm hits northern Japan; 32 dead
   
  Israeli forces thrust into northern Gaza
   
  NASA space capsule crashes into desert
   
 
  Go to Another Section  
 
 
  Story Tools  
   
  News Talk  
  Are the Republicans exploiting the memory of 9/11?  
Advertisement