The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa returned Sunday after a 6 billion kilometer round-trip voyage to asteroid 25143 Itokawa. Welcome home!
Take a look at this fantastic footage from Hayabusa's re-entry:
As we mentioned a few days ago, the plan was for Hayabusa to land on Itokawa, fire a projectile to dislodge samples from the asteroid, collect them and return them to the Earth. The mission has been plagued with problems, but the clever folks at JAXA seem to have overcome most of these serious issues (because of a malfunction with the projectile, it remains to be seen whether the samples were actually collected on Itokawa).
The ship broke up on re-entry travelling over 7 miles per second, ejecting a small capsule (presumably carrying the samples) capable of surviving the fiery decent into the Australian wilderness. Let's hope the prize is inside!