Friday, July 2, 2010

Did Hayabusa Come Back Empty-Handed?

The New York Times chronicles the troubled journey of the Japanese space probe Hayabusa, and the uncertainty of Japan's future in space technology. And as of right now, we still don't know if any asteroid samples were retrieved.

As we've mentioned previously, the projectile mechanism that was supposed to dislodge samples from the asteroid malfunctioned, so JAXA has known for years that there was a chance the probe would return empty-handed. But we won't know for some time whether anything of value was collected; as you can imagine, the scientists are taking extreme care not to contaminate anything inside.

Regardless of whether the asteroid samples are within, Hayabusa's return itself is a triumph. With three of four engines failed, it's remarkable that they were able to get it back to Earth at all. So even as JAXA's technology may have come up short this time around, it's still a win in my book; after all, it's still the only spacecraft to have ever landed on an asteroid and returned to Earth.

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