Azara Blog: Japanese space probe hopefully collects samples from an asteroid

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Date published: 2005/11/26

The BBC says:

A Japanese space probe has become the first craft to collect samples from the surface of an asteroid, mission scientists say.

The probe, called Hayabusa - Japanese for falcon - briefly touched down on the Itokawa asteroid and fired a projectile to loosen surface material.

Scientists believe it collected the debris, but will only be sure when the craft returns to Earth in 2007.

Moon rocks have been analysed before, but asteroids could contain material from the birth of the solar system.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed that the Hayabusa touched down on Itokawa for a few seconds.

Touching down on the asteroid, which is 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth, was as tough as landing a jumbo jet in the Grand Canyon, a Jaxa spokesman said.

The probe fired a small metal ball into the surface and apparently collected the resulting powdery debris.
Saturday's announcement by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) came after a series of problems in the past week.

Last Sunday, Hayabusa made a first touchdown on the rotating asteroid - but it failed to collect material after temporarily losing contact with Earth.

A separate attempt to land a miniature robot on the asteroid was also unsuccessful.

Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and has until early December before it must leave orbit and begin its journey home. It is expected to return to Earth and land in the Australian outback in June 2007.

An amazing feat if they really managed to pull it off. And much more sophisticated than what the US recently did, i.e. smash a large projectile into a comet.

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