By Ruth Olson
NASA”s mission to bring back particles of the sun ended Wednesday in a spectacular crash in the Utah desert.
After the spacecraft Genesis made its entrance into Earth”s atmosphere Wednesday morning, parachutes were to deploy, and the samples were to be retrieved from mid-air by helicopters. However, the parachutes failed to deploy and the spacecraft made a crash landing at 193 mph in Dugway, southwest of Salt Lake City. The spacecraft was carrying samples of solar wind particles, which were contaminated on impact.
According to a NASA briefing, no one was injured by the crash, and NASA said they are working to ensure that unexploded pieces on the craft will pose no danger.
In a press conference, NASA officials said they are confident that the mission was not a complete waste. Despite the crash, NASA was confident that broken disks would be salvaged.
NASA does not yet know the final reason behind the parachutes” failure to deploy. A spokesperson said battery failure was a possible reason for the failure of the parachutes. NASA has called for a mishap review board to be formed within 72 hours, and are already looking at the available data to determine the cause of the crash.
Genesis was the first spacecraft to collect pure samples of solar wind from outside Earth”s magnetic field. Scientists hoped that the particles would help answer questions about the composition of the universe as it was forming. Now they will have to wait to see what, if anything, can be salvaged from the downed craft.
Genesis”s $260 million mission, which began over three years ago, was to have provided a large enough amount of sample to make any future sample return missions unnecessary.
NASA had originally planned to snatch the samples out of the air with helicopters to save them from even the relatively mild shock of a parachute landing. Up until the last minute, NASA was confident of the safety of the landing and of the helicopter grab. They had planned a backup helicopter in case the first one failed to make the grab. NASA had also planned an option to delay the recovery of the spacecraft for six months in case of risky weather conditions.