Systems Engineering Seminar

Genesis Failure: Understanding the Causes and the Opportunities

Presented by:
Dr Michael G Ryschkewitsch, Deputy Director,
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and
Peter D Spidaliere, Code 599

February 7, 2006, 1:00 p.m.
Building 3 Auditorium

Genesis Failure: Understanding the Causes and the Opportunities

A little over a year ago the Genesis return capsule, containing priceless samples of solar material, was to have safely parachuted and been captured by a waiting helicopter; instead it crashed into the desert floor at 193 mph. This presentation by the leaders of the mishap investigation team explains what happened, why it happened, and, more importantly, what Goddard can do to avoid similar future failures. The lessons learned were not applicable to capsule missions alone – the errors made could have happened on any spacecraft – weaknesses in systems engineering execution and technical reviews, and unfounded faith in heritage hardware.

Unfortunately, the Genesis mishap did not end with the crash. The capsule continued to pose a potentially significant safety hazard. This was exacerbated by poor planning and execution of contingency procedures. Although the ground incident is not directly applicable to Goddard missions, the lessons learned are applicable to any Goddard flight operation. These lessons were recently applied to the successful recovery of the Stardust capsule – both during spacecraft flight and capsule recovery operations.



Dr. Ryschkewitsch joined the GSFC in 1982, as a cryogenics engineer supporting the development of the superfluid helium dewar for the Cosmic Background Explorer. During the COBE program he served at various times as the dewar lead engineer and contract COTR and instrument mechanisms tiger team leader. During this period, he also led a tiger team to repair the Broad Band X-Ray Telescope cryocoolers.

He served as a Head of the Cryogenic Systems Development Section and Assistant Branch Head for the Electromechanical Systems Branch. He was selected as Associate Chief of the Space Technology Division in 1990. During this time he lead the GSFC team that worked with Ball Aerospace to develop the concept for the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) that was used in the repair of the HST during the first servicing mission. In 1992, he was selected to form and become Chief of the Engineering Directorate Systems Engineering Office. He was selected to become the Deputy Director of the Systems, Technology and Advanced Concepts Directorate (STAAC) in the fall of 1997, and the Deputy Director of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate in October 2001. In fall of 2004, Dr. Ryschkewitsch was selected as the Director of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate and as Center Deputy Director in the Fall of 2005

Dr. Ryschkewitsch was awarded a NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1990, a NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 1998, the GSFC Robert Baumann Award for Mission Success in 2003 and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center Leadership Award in 2004. Dr. Ryschkewitsch received a B.S. in Physics from the University of Florida in 1973, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University in 1978. Prior to joining the GSFC he served as a postdoctoral fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Delaware.


Mr. Spidaliere joined GSFC in 1989 as the Systems Engineer for the Flight Telerobotic Servicer. He later became the Systems Engineer for the First Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission and in 1994 became the Spacecraft Systems Engineer for Landsat 7.

He then transferred to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) to serve as the Systems Engineering Manager for the International Space Station (ISS). In 1996 he became the Deputy Project Manager for the ISS Interim Control Module at the Naval Research Laboratory. Mr. Spidaliere returned to GSFC in 1997 to serve as the Mission Systems Engineer for the Earth Observing-1 Mission, later returning to JSC in 1999 to join the Space Shuttle Upgrades Program. In 2001 he became the JSC Chief Engineer and Systems Engineering Manager for the Orbital Space Plane Program. After the Shuttle Columbia disaster he volunteered to lead the Shuttle Orbiter Thermal Protection System safety team. During this time he developed an on-orbit infrared sensor technique to detect damage to the Orbiter’s wing leading edge. In 2005 he returned to GSFC again to support the Lunar Exploration Program at Headquarters. He is currently the spacecraft study manager for the Magnetospheric Multi-Scale Project.

Mr. Spidaliere received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech in 1983. Prior to joining GSFC worked in Industry and for the Navy in the robotics field.


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