Ed Yeates reportingIt was supposed to be an historic mid-air capture of a package falling from the sky - one carrying delicate particles gathered from the far reaches of space. But as fate would have it, it never happened!
Ed Yeates has the story our newsroom picked as our number seven top story of 2004.
In space, Genesis pulled off its delicate job like clockwork. Fragile ultra pure wafers made from gold, sapphire and diamonds captured atoms from the solar wind - particles that might hold clues about the formation of the solar system.
The spacecraft deployed its precious cargo at just the right time and place. In a fiery entry, the 400 pound capsule zipped through the earth's atmosphere and began its fall at 800 feet per second.
Over the skies of Dugway, two crack helicopter pilots had practiced over and over again - how to snag the capsule in mid air with a specially designed grappling hook. This was a sensitive experiment you did NOT want to hit the ground.
One of the pilots was Utah native Dan Rudert.
Dan Rudert/Genesis Capture Pilot: "You know it will be exhilarating, a feeling of a job well done. Again, how many jobs last 90 minutes that you were anticipating that 90 minutes for five years?"
September 8th. Everybody gathered at Dugway to witness this historic event. But a parachute that was supposed to slow down the capsule - allowing pilots to snag it - NEVER opened. The Genesis cargo plunged into Utah's western desert at 193 miles per hour.
The experiment appeared shattered. So were all the folks from NASA.
But as pieces were brought back to a clean room at Dugway's airfield, a stroke of good luck! Many broken pieces appeared salvageable. Some parts had even remained intact.
Dr. Eileen Stansbery/NASA Johnson Space Center: "When the team first saw those concentrator targets were intact, it was a special moment. That's all I can say. It was awesome."
But imagine the celebration had everything been saved - had that parachute opened and kept this $260-million project from crashing into the desert floor.
Why didn't the parachute open? A simple switch had been installed backwards.
What's left of the Genesis experiment is in Houston and other labs. Researchers are now trying to see how much of what's left of the science can really be studied.