Space Probe Recovered After Mission to Asteroid

Japanese capsule thought to be carrying asteroid dust lands in Australia
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2010 8:14 AM CDT
In this photo released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, a capsule detached from JAXA's Hayabusa probe lies on the ground in a desert in the Woomera Prohibited Area, Australia, June 14.   (AP Photo/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
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(Newser) – Seven years and 4 billion miles miles later, the Hayabusa capsule is almost home—Japanese scientists today began the process of collecting it from the Australian Outback, where it fell to Earth in a fiery shower of light after its trip to the asteroid Itokawa. If it contains fragments of the asteroid as hoped, it would be the first time such samples had been collected from the face of an asteroid and brought back to earth—and could provide clues into the evolution of the solar system, reports the BBC.

It may be weeks before scientists know if the capsule does in fact hold Itokawa dust—Hayabusa's capture mechanism malfunctioned just as it was to collect the fragments, but officials say the dust the capsule kicked up should have made its way into the probe, even if more sizable samples didn't. If Hayabusa was successful, it would mark just the fourth space sample return in history: The Apollo missions retrieved moon matter; Stardust, comet material; and Genesis, solar matter.

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