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Capsule from <i>Genesis</i> Space Probe Crashes in Utah Desert - 2004-09-08

Scientists with the U.S. space agency NASA have begun investigating the crash landing Wednesday of the Genesis space capsule in Utah. The mission came to a disastrous end when a parachute attached to the capsule did not open, sending the vehicle crashing to the ground. Scientists are hoping to recover as much data as they can from the wrecked space probe.

To avoid a crash landing, NASA devised a bold plan for three helicopters, including one flown by a Hollywood stunt pilot, to snag the 191-kilogram Genesis space capsule in the skies over Utah and ease it to the ground.

But moments after the probe entered earth's atmosphere, with what NASA officials describe as "pinpoint accuracy," mission controllers knew something had gone terribly wrong.

Mission Controllers: "Looks like we have no [para]chute sir. Look for an impact."

A parafoil, and possibly a back-up parachute, did not deploy. The parachutes were designed to slow down the Genesis capsule enough so the lead helicopter could pluck it out of the sky. Instead, the space probe went hurtling to the ground at approximately 300 kilometers per hour and crashed at a remote spot at Dugway Air Force Base in Utah.

Officials say no one was hurt. But the capsule appears to have sustained extensive damage. And officials say a canister containing solar wind particles gathered by Genesis in deep space during its three-year mission is also damaged.

Recovery teams were immediately dispatched to secure the site and to make sure it's safe for investigators. The capsule contained unexploded munitions. The explosives are used to deploy the parachutes.

NASA says it will begin an investigation within 72 hours.

A tired Don Sweetman, who heads the Genesis project mission, says almost everything went as planned.

"You know, I have run through my head the mental scenario of every step of the way," said Mr. Sweetman. "And boy it clicked off perfectly today. But there's a lot of serious steps and a lot of things that have to happen in series, and we got just about all of them done and we just didn't get the last two or three done."

Mr. Sweetman says scientists will soon begin trying to recover as much data as they can from the damaged Genesis canister in an attempt to salvage the $264 million mission.