Space probe returns to Earth from trip to asteroid
ADELAIDE, Australia -- A team of eager scientists flew into the Australian Outback on Monday to recover a Japanese space capsule they hope contains the first-ever asteroid samples that could provide clues into the evolution of the solar system.
The Hayabusa explorer returned to Earth overnight after a seven-year, 4-billion mile (6-billion kilometer) journey, burning apart on re-entry in a spectacular fireball just after jettisoning the capsule. It was the first time a spacecraft successfully landed on an asteroid and returned to Earth.
Seiichi Sakamoto of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which launched the explorer in 2003, said they were "delighted" to recover the capsule, particularly after a number of technical problems delayed Hayabusa's arrival for three years.
"It was an extremely difficult technological challenge, and we did everything to overcome the troubles one by one," he said. "This is an achievement we could make simply because we never gave up hope."
On Monday, two helicopters took scientists to the capsule's landing site in the Woomera Prohibited Area, a remote military zone 300 miles (485 kilometers) northwest of the South Australian state capital of Adelaide.
It could take many hours to retrieve the capsule and collect samples, which will be taken to Japan for study after a series of measures to protect the capsule and its cargo. [...]
It was supposed to come back in 2007, but was delayed by technical problems, and missed it's window of opportunity to maneuver into the Earth's orbit until this year. I found all the details interesting. Quite an accomplishment, if the samples made it back.