ADELAIDE, Australia – A team of scientists flew to the Australian Outback on Monday and recovered a Japanese space capsule that they hope contains asteroid samples providing 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.
The craft was designed to shoot a bullet into the surface of the asteroid that would crush and propel material through a long tube into a sample collection container. There is no certainty the bullet actually fired, scientists say, but they believe the impact of the tube's landing would have forced some material upward and into the collection chamber.
"We have perhaps a 50 percent chance" of retrieving samples, Sakamoto said.