Space mission down to Earth after seven years and 4 billion km 
Leigh Dayton, Science writer 
From: The Australian 
June 15, 2010 12:00AM 

AFTER waiting seven years for the Hayabusa spacecraft to complete a 4 billion 
kilometre return journey that ended in the South Australian outback yesterday, 
scientists will have to hold on for another two to four weeks before they find 
out whether it has achieved its goal of bringing the first asteroid samples 
back to Earth. 

Until then, the saucer-shaped re-entry capsule will be handled with 
considerable care as it is transported to Japan for testing.

Yesterday, a helicopter carrying a small group of scientists and Aboriginal 
elders, along with representatives of the RAAF and the Australian Quarantine 
and Inspection Service, flew to the remote area to retrieve the capsule. It was 
returned -- unopened -- to nearby Woomera, where it was repackaged in 
preparation for its journey to Japan.

If the mission has gone according to plan, when the capsule is opened in the 
next two to four weeks, scientists will find samples of the rocky surface of 
the asteroid Itokawa -- named after Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa -- 
in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It would mark the first such 
collection of samples from an asteroid.

Australian National University geochemist Trevor Ireland, who was at Woomera 
along with scientists from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and US 
space agency NASA, said the mission had gone smoothly and everyone involved was 
confident samples had been successfully gathered.

"It's been absolutely like clockwork," he said of the final leg of the Hayabusa 

Launched on May 9, 2003, Hayabusa travelled about 2 billion km to Itokawa, made 
two rubble retrieval landings and journeyed home, dropping the sample return 
capsule to Earth, roughly 60km north of Glendambo, South Australia. "That was 
exactly where it was supposed to be, which is amazing," Professor Ireland said.

However, no one is sure whether the rubble retrievals were successful because 
of a temporary loss of communication between the spacecraft and Earth.

Along with the capsule, the team found what appears to be its protective heat 

Related Coverage
  a.. Now for the dust to clear Adelaide Now, 3 hours ago
  b.. Hayabusa lands in SA outback Adelaide Now, 5 hours ago
  c.. Hayabusa spacecraft lands in Australia The Australian, 14 hours ago
  d.. Asteroid probe lands in SA outback Herald Sun, 19 hours ago
  e.. Aborigines to greet Japanese spacecraft The Australian, 2 days ago

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