The return of the Genesis spacecraft to Earth on September 8 did not go according to plan. The vessel, which spent 27 months collecting data and samples of the solar wind, entered Earth's atmosphere as scheduled on Wednesday morning, but its parachutes failed to deploy and the capsule crashed into the Utah desert. Though discouraged by the setback, NASA scientists were still hopeful that some of the samples could be recovered. Now early results have proved promising. We are bouncing back from a hard landing and spirits are picking up again, reports NASA's Orlando Figueroa.

The Genesis sample-return capsule impacted the ground at nearly 200 miles an hour (see image), leaving scientists worried about the delicate material that was designed to collect charged particles and measurements of oxygen isotopes--information that should shed light on the evolution of our solar system. After the crash, the 400-pound capsule was recovered and transported by helicopter to a nearby Army base equipped with a clean room for analysis. From our initial look, we can see that two of the four concentrator segments are in place, and all four may be intact, says Genesis team member Roger Wiens of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Other collectors did not fare as well, however. Nearly all of the hexagonal wafers used to collect solar wind samples broke, although some of the pieces may still contain information. We won't really know how many can be recovered for some time, Wiens remarks, but we are far more hopeful important science can be conducted than we were on Wednesday. About three quarters of the foil collectors attached to the canister's lid were also recovered, but their analysis will be complicated owing to contamination from elements of the Utah desert.

What caused the Genesis accident remains unclear. NASA announced on Friday that Michael Ryschkewitsch of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will lead the Mishap Investigation Board. The group is scheduled to meet this week to begin to identify the factors that contributed to the crash, with an initial report expected in November.