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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Genesis Probe Crashes, VAB Damaged in Hurricane

It's been a lousy week for NASA. On the weekend, Hurricane Frances blew over Cape Canaveral. The Vehicle Assembly Building lost about 52,000 square feet of panels, and about 20% of the damaged area is now open to the outside. It's roof is also in a bad state, and the roof of the building where they work on the shuttle tiles blew off. Considering that another hurricane may hit them the coming weekend, they've got their work cut out.

Just this morning, a capsule containing solar wind samples, the Genesis mission, crashed in the Utah desert after its parachute failed to open.

We need to determine the Sun's exact composition in order to compare it to that of other objects in the Solar System and get a better idea of when and where everything formed. The Sun's composition is particularly important as it should be essentially unchanged since it formed, while everything else has been battered about for four billion years.

The best way to do this is to obtain a direct sample. Going to the Sun isn't quite feasible, so the plan was to collect samples of the solar wind far from the influence of the Earth magnetic field. The Genesis probe was sent to the Earth-Sun L1 point, about a million km sunwards of Earth, and stayed there for two and a half year, collecting particles in wafers made of silicon, gold, sapphire, and diamond.

Once finished there, the probe sent a capsule back to Earth. Because the wafers are fragile, it was felt that a parachute landing alone would be too rough, so two helicopters would be used to snag the descending probe out of the sky (each taking turns till one got it).

Unfortunately, it looks like it was all for naught, as the parachute failed to open. I'm looking at the mission log now, and they are using words like "spectacular crater" and "badly damaged".

This would have been the first sample return from space since Apollo 17.

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Two other space missions, the Hayabusa asteroid mission and the Stardust comet mission, are out there right now, which are planned to return to Earth in the same fashion. Those will have to be rechecked.

Just great. Are they actually using the same type of deployment mechanism? If so, NASA will have to get a few more helicopters and string a big net between them.

Will that really be useful? I read that Genesis ("Genesis allowed is not! Is space probe forbidden!") crashed at something like 320 kph.

I should have included a smiley there, or at least a sarcasty.

Reading the latest mission statement, they're not sure why the parachute failed to deploy, but since they have the capsule reasonably intact, they should be able to figure it out, and hopefully be able to do something to help Stardust (comet sample return).

Plus, there's the (admittedly shallow) disappointment that the helicopter stunt pilot didn't get to do his cool thing and hook the parachute.

Maybe next time they should send out Superman. I mean, he's got a vested interest in finding out how our sun works.....

Plus, there's the (admittedly shallow) disappointment that the helicopter stunt pilot didn't get to do his cool thing and hook the parachute.

Good point! Someone needs to feel these guy's pain. Just think how good it would have looked on their resumes ("Snagged space probe in midair").

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