NASA and JPL launch the unmanned space probe Genesis to collect samples of the solar wind by exposing various materials from Earth to the solar wind and returning those materials to Earth – the first space mission to return samples from space since the Apollo moon missions – so the properties of the exposed samples can be compared to those of similar samples still on Earth. After nearly three years in deep space, Genesis will send a capsule loaded with these samples back to Earth, though its landing won’t exactly go as planned.
The NASA/JPL Genesis mission, a 29-month trek through the solar system to gather solar particles and return them to Earth, ends in disaster when both of the parachutes – meant to slow the returning Genesis capsule down and give retrieval helicopters something to hook onto to bring the capsule to the ground safely – fail to open. As a result, the 420+ pound Genesis capsule slams into the Utah desert floor at nearly 200 miles per hour. The impact breaches not only the outer re-entry shell of the capsule, but the experiment canister within containing the fragile plates of gold, sapphire, diamond and other pure substances, all of which had been exposed to the solar wind to collect particles from the sun. Scientists begin picking through the debris to see what portions of those collection devices can be salvaged. Several pieces of the collection devices are salvageable, with at least two complete plates and fragments of several others, but many other plates are reduced to dust by the impact of landing.
A week after the Genesis sample return mission tumbled back to Earth, slamming into the Utah desert floor at nearly 200 miles per hour after its parachutes failed to open, investigators find a likely cause of the crash. It appears that four gravity-sensitive switches, designed to sense the sudden deceleration of the Genesis capsule through Earth’s atmosphere and set off a timed sequence that would’ve opened the parachutes, had all been installed backwards. The four switches were designed to be redundant, so that if some failed the others could still carry out their assigned task…but this doesn’t do a lot of good if all of them are all installed incorrrectly. The investigation indicates that an erroneous schematic diagram of Genesis may be to blame. In the meantime, researchers begin to examine the surviving chunks of the broken collector plates containing particles of solar material.