Space capsule touches down in South Australia

My colleague at the Australian Science Media Centre, Nigel Kerby had a late night last night, waiting up in the desolate surrounds of South Australia’s Woomera test range for the Japanese space capsule Hayabusa to touch down.

Scientists from Japan, the US and Australia, and including New Zealander Trevor Ireland had gathered over the weekend to watch the probes re-entry to Earth, which appears to have been successful.

Nigel has videos and photos of the touch-down preparations and aftermath here.

The exciting thing about the Hayabusa probe is that it was the first ever spacecraft to successfully land on an asteroid then successfully return to Earth. It was a pretty amazing feat, though one that was not without its mishaps. Its not yet known if the probe was successful in its mission of grabbing a handful of space dust from the asteroid Itokawa – though scientists will only need a few micrograms of material to examine the asteroid’s make-up – which they claim could give clues to the chemical origins of the universe.

Whether the capsule’s precious payload has arrived intact will become obvious fairly quickly. What will take much longer, will be the analysis of any material found, making the outcome of this US$200 million mission still far from certain.

More from the BBC’s Spaceman blog.

Japanese scientists preparing for the capsule's touchdown - source: AusSMC
Japanese scientists preparing for the capsule's touchdown - source: AusSMC

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