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Genesis capsule being sent back to its builders

NASA is sending the Genesis space capsule back to its builders in Denver as part of the investigation into the mission's crash landing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

NASA will soon send its damaged Genesis space capsule back to Colorado, where builders at Lockheed Martin will join other experts in trying to figure out why it crashed in Utah earlier this month.

The capsule will be trucked in the next week or so from the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah to the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility southwest of Denver, NASA spokesman Don Savage said Tuesday.

The capsule crashed Sept. 8 when its parachutes failed to open at the end of a three-year, $264 million mission to study the solar system. The 5-foot-diameter (1.5-meter-diameter) capsule was traveling 193 mph (309 kilometers per hour) when it hit the ground, burying itself about 2 feet (60 centimeters) in mud.

Scientists say they found some pieces intact and are optimistic their work was not a total loss. The capsule held billions of charged atoms that could help explain how the sun was formed 4.5 billion years ago.

NASA is investigating why the parachutes did not open. Engineers are focusing on electronic controls or sensors that were supposed to trigger explosives that release the chutes.

Helicopters flown by Hollywood stunt pilots were supposed to grab Genesis’ parachute with a hook almost a mile above the desert and lower the capsule gently to the ground. But they never had a chance.

A 16-member NASA Mishap Investigation Board has been formed that includes experts on parachute systems, pyrotechnic devices, computer software, electrical systems, avionics and aerodynamics.

Engineers at Lockheed Martin, which built the capsule, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have begun sorting and assembling records and data relating to the Genesis mission.

One Lockheed official recently suggested a faulty electronics box or a bad battery could have caused the parachute failure. Savage said the investigative panel will consider all options.