Any species who aims to reach the stars will invariably burn their fingertips. It is possible.
A memorable reminder of our spacefaring mistakes is provided by NASA’s Astronomy Picture Of The Day website. The caption to the photo reads: “A flying saucer from space crashed into Utah desert after being tracked by radar and pursued by helicopters,” but NASA does not mention an alien encounter. The Genesis spacecraft’s return capsule was hidden in the desert sand by the battered dish. It was half-buried under the desert sand. It wasn’t meant to smash into the ground with this force.
NASA launched the Genesis project on August 8, 2001. It was an ambitious effort to launch a spacecraft into the solar wind of our star, collect samples and return them to Earth. Researchers sought to understand more about the elements in the Solar System’s original planets. They collected data from the Sun’s corona on the composition of charged particle pouring out of it.
The Genesis spacecraft came equipped with a sample capsule to return solar wind elements. It was used during its two-year orbit around Lagrange point 1. This is one of few places in space where gravity and Sun are perfectly balanced. The vessel collected the sun’s energy by folding out a series collector arrays. Each was laden with high purity elements like aluminum, sapphire or silicon and even gold.
Amy Jurewicz, project scientist, explained that the materials used in the Genesis collector arrays needed to be strong enough to launch without breaking, retain the sample while it is heated by the Sun, and pure enough so we could analyze the elements of the solar wind after Earth-return. The sample capsule with its precious arrays was blasted into Utah five days later at a speedy of 310 km/h (193mph)
It was planned that the mortar on the capsule would explode 127 seconds after reentering the atmosphere. The preliminary parachute would then be deployed to slow down the drop and stabilize it. The capsule’s primary parachute would then fill, allowing for a leisurely descent into the Utah Test and Training Range.
The crash scene is dotted with helicopters, which hover close to the wreckage and prepare to capture the capsule mid-flight. They also transport the capsule quickly to a cleanroom in order to minimize contamination. None of the parachutes was deployed.
After a thorough analysis, it was determined that the inaccuracy could be attributed to a group of sensors about the same size as a pencil’s metallic end. They had been placed in reverse. These tiny gadgets sensed the increasing g forces and activated the parachutes as the capsule fell towards the ground. As you would expect, the impact did significant damage, destroying many arrays and contaminating valuable payloads within.
After the capsule had been removed from its final resting place, the project team began to salvage and analyze any remaining pieces.