Status Report

NASA’s Genesis Mishap Board and Researchers Both Report Progress

By SpaceRef Editor
October 14, 2004
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As scientists begin to unpack more than 3,000 containers
of samples of the sun brought to Earth by NASA’s Genesis
mission, the Mishap Investigation Board (MIB) has identified
a likely direct cause of the failure of Genesis’ parachute
system to open.

The parachute system failed to deploy when Genesis returned
to Earth September 8, 2004. The MIB, analyzing the Genesis
capsule at a facility near Denver, said the likely cause was
a design error that involves the orientation of gravity-
switch devices. The switches sense the braking caused by the
high-speed entry into the atmosphere, and then initiate the
timing sequence leading to deployment of the craft’s drogue
parachute and parafoil.

“This single cause has not yet been fully confirmed, nor has
it been determined whether it is the only problem within the
Genesis system,” said Dr. Michael G. Ryschkewitsch, the MIB
chair. “The Board is working to confirm this proximate cause,
to determine why this error happened, why it was not caught
by the test program and an extensive set of in-process and
after-the-fact reviews of the Genesis system.”

Meanwhile, scientists unpacking samples at NASA’s Johnson
Space Center (JSC), Houston, curation facility remain upbeat
in their assessment of the prospects for obtaining useful
science from the recovered samples.

The facility counted more than 3,000 tracking numbers for the
containers that hold pieces of wafers from the five collector
panels. The panels secured samples of atoms and ions from the
solar wind that were collected during Genesis’ nearly three-
year mission in deep space. Some of the containers hold as
many as 96 pieces of the wafers. The team has been preparing
the samples for study since the science payload and recovered
samples arrived at JSC October 4.

Planning is under way for preliminary examination of the
samples to prepare for allocation to the science community.
The samples eventually will be moved to the JSC Genesis clean
room where they will be cleaned, examined and then
distributed to scientists, promising researchers years of
study into the origins and evolution of the solar system.

“We cheered the news from the science team about the recovery
of a significant amount of the precious samples of the sun,”
said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, deputy associate administrator for
the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters,
Washington. “Despite the hard landing, Genesis was able to
deliver. However, we await the final report of the Mishap
Board to understand what caused the malfunction, and to hear
the Board’s recommendations for how we can avoid such a
problem in the future,” he added.

The recovered remains of the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) are
undergoing engineering inspections and tests at the Waterton,
Colo., facility of Lockheed Martin Astronautics (LMA). The
Genesis spacecraft and SRC were built at Waterton. Lockheed
Martin is supporting the MIB both to examine the recovered
hardware and in assembling documentation relevant to the
development of the space system.

“Both Lockheed Martin and JPL have been providing every
possible support to our investigation. All of the people from
both organizations who were involved in the Genesis project
have been extremely professional and cooperative in helping
the Board do its work,” said Dr. Ryschkewitsch.

The safety critical pyrotechnic devices and the damaged
lithium sulfur dioxide battery have been secured to allow
safe operations. The battery has been transported to the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (JPL), Calif., to begin
detailed evaluation.

The MIB is evaluating the recovered hardware, pertinent
documentation, impact site recovery activities and
interviewing people from development teams. The MIB is using
a fault tree as its guide. A fault tree is a formal method
for determining, organizing and evaluating possible direct
causes for a mishap and to trace them to root causes.

The Board’s charter is to examine every possible cause and to
determine whether it was related to the mishap. The Board
expects to complete its work by late November.

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web,

SpaceRef staff editor.