Source: Nasa Science News
Asteroid Itokawa Sample ReturnDec. 29, 2010: The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa spacecraft has brought home to Earth tiny pieces of an alien world–asteroid Itokawa.
"It's an incredible feeling to have another world right in the palm of your hand," says Mike Zolensky, Associate Curator for Interplanetary Dust at the Johnson Space Center, and one of the three non-Japanese members of the science team. "We're seeing for the first time, up close, what an asteroid is actually made of!"
He has good reason to be excited. Asteroids formed at the dawn of our solar system, so studying these samples can teach us how it formed and evolved.
Hayabusa launched in 2003 and set out on a billion kilometer voyage to Itokawa, arriving a little over two years later. In 2005, the spacecraft performed a spectacular feat -- landed on the asteroid's surface(1). The hope was to capture samples from the alien world.
But there was a problem. The projectiles set to blast up dust from the surface failed to fire, leaving only the particles kicked up from landing for collection. Did any asteroid dust made it into the collection chamber?