NASA's Solar Probe Crashes In Desert
NASA's Genesis probe, which orbited the sun collecting solar
particles for more than three years, crashed unceremoniously in the
Utah desert Wednesday, after its parachute failed to deploy.
"There was a big pit in my stomach,"
The Associated Press quoted physicist Roger Wiens as saying. He's
with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which designed the plates
that captured the stuff the sun is made of. "This just wasn't
supposed to happen. We're going to have a lot of work picking up
Two helicopters had orbited the landing zone in hopes of
snagging Genesis and its canopy before it hit the ground. As the
landing time approached, the crews strained to find the
brilliantly-colored parachute against the blue sky or the desert
below. No luck. There was no parachute.
"The capsule has suffered extensive damage. It`s broken apart,
sitting there on the desert floor," he said. "We are going to have
to recover that capsule. Hopefully there will be enough evidence
for us to determine what went wrong. Whether or not we can recover
any of the science from this remains to be seen."
The spacecraft used hexagonal wafers of silicone, gold,
sapphires and diamonds to collect the solar particles during its
three-year mission. Those delicate wafers were almost certainly
shattered in the crash.
NASA had called on two of Hollywood's most daring pilots --
Cliff Fleming and Dan Rudert -- to fly helicopters equipped with
long grappling hooks. Their mission was to snag the Genesis probe's
parachute before the capsule hit the ground. Fleming and Rudert
have credits that include the movies "Batman" and "The Hulk." They
were hired by JPL after other pilots turned down the mission,
saying it was too dangerous.
Rudert and Fleming had snagged a mock-Genesis probe 17 out of
the 17 times they tried.
Before Wednesday, scientists were worried about the 25 mph
impact Genesis would have suffered if the parachute deployed and
"It appears that it hit the ground at about 100 mph," said Chris
Jones, director of solar system exploration at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (CA). He was quoted by the French
news service, AFP.