“It looks like we have a no-chute, sir”

Genesis Mission has landed, 8 September 2004
This is how you test the resilience and optimism (and sanity) of a human being. You ask him to work for 14 years on a space science project, you grant his wish and send his path-breaking probe to gather specks of the solar wind (at a fascinating and mysterious location called Lagrange-1), you successfully return the probe to earth orbit, you even allow him his crazy Burt Reynolds fantasy of grabbing it during its descent using stunt helicopter pilots… and then you crash his precious probe into the desert at 150 miles per hour. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful and so pathetic as this little film of Genesis tumbling (and tumbling) silently to earth today.

Of course, in the very, very long run, it’s going to be our readiness to make the best of a cock-up like this (and Beagle 2 and Columbia and so on…), to pick ourselves up and to keep trying, that confirms our humanity and that gives us the slightest chance of exceeding the bounds of our home planet one day…


  1. Absolutely. I had a slightly crappy day yesterday. Got home feeling sorry for myself and then I saw this and realised what real work-related misery must be like. It’s especially sad because it was exciting space stuff, with stunt helicopter pilots and things. It’s one of the things that reminds you that America’s not just about invading Iraq and W. It’s also about NASA and relentless optimism.

  2. My son came lolloping down the stairs after watching Newsround to deliver this news to me in apocalyptic terms. Not only this on my birthday as well, but Hurricane Ivan devastates the Carribean. Portents, portents.
    What I love about the site Steve links to is the wealth of detail about how its all going to work, which sort of omits to consider what might happen if the brilliant parachute just sort of fails to show up. This just about sums it up.

    “We really haven’t done extraterrestrial sample return since Apollo, and we’ve never done it with a helicopter before,” said Don Sweetnam, project manager for the Genesis mission at NASA headquarters.

    And the artists impression of the recovey, basically a painting of a helicopter and a pudding basin on a parachute, is priceless!

  3. I couldn’t agree more Steve. Seeing an apparent ‘failure’ like this and thinking of what these people have put into it. It certainly makes you re-evaluate your own ‘tribulations’.

    The Beagle II expedition had me on my knees on Christmas day. These people
    embody the concept of resilience. It’s about time some people stood up and appreciated them more for their dedication to sciences and concepts that most of us will never appreciate, let alone understand.

    These people are heroes. All the more so for their gracious handling of what for me, certainly, would be a crushing disappointment.

    I look forward to your next intelligent installment…..

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