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Genesis Space Capsule Crashes in Desert

The Genesis space capsule crashed in the Utah desert on Wednesday after its parachutes failed to deploy. The unmanned probe, which held billions of solar particles weighing no more than a few grains of salt, promised potential clues to the origins of the solar system. It was not clear whether the samples had been destroyed.

Launched in 2001, the spacecraft traveled almost one million miles to a point where the gravitational forces of the Earth and the Sun balance out: the Lagrange 1 point. There it deployed fragile arrays made of precious minerals to capture "solar wind" -- highly charged subatomic particles streaming from the sun.

Trained Hollywood stunt pilots were primed to rescue the capsule before it touched the ground using helicopters and giant hooks. But the parachutes never opened and the probe came crashing down to earth at about 100 mph.

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Hear NPR's Howard Berkes and NPR's Robert Siegel.

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