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Pilots Prepare to Catch Space Dust

Pilots Prepare to Catch Space Dust

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Ed Yeates ReportingNext week two skilled helicopter pilots will try to catch a precious cargo from outer space in mid air before it hits the ground. And journalists from throughout the world will be here in Utah to watch it happen.

It's stunt work at its finest and one of the pilots is from Utah. Who best to pull of tricky maneuvers than pilots Cliff Flemming and Dan Rudert? They've been doing this for years in the movies for some of the biggest box office hits.

They come very close to objects, even actors - sometimes flying three feet behind them and only five feet off the ground. But Dan and Cliff's most significant scene will play itself out here a week from today in Utah's western desert. This time, the pilots won't be back stage but center stage.

Vertigo, the company they fly for, is under contract with NASA to snag Project Genesis from space, now on its way back to earth. It's precious cargo, priceless micrograms the size of a few grains of salt, gathered from the solar wind.

These two pilots know how to fly very close to the 400 pound capsule, falling through the sky at about 800 feet per second, then snagging it with a specially designed grappling hook.

If one chopper misses, the second will make a try. If the capsule hits the ground, its delicate cargo could be severely damaged.

Rudert, who grew up in Utah, is back home again getting ready to pull off the greatest stunt of all. Unlike the films, you can't cut this scene and re-shoot it another day.

Dan Rudert: "If we're too high over the parafoil, the hook could rip right through the fabric and make it come down at an undesirable rate. And if we're too low, there are consequences to meeting that parachute head on."

Like today's dress rehearsal, the two pilots have been practicing for years now getting ready for next week's big catch.

Dan Rudert: "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."

Genesis will enter the Earth's atmosphere over Northwest Oregon next Wednesday, reaching the skies over Dugway in only 80 seconds.

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