Hayabusa comes home

HayabusaJapan’s Hayabusa unmanned space probe releases a re-entry capsule containing samples of surface material it gathered from asteroid 25143 Itokawa in 2005. The capsule survives a punishing 25G re-entry and is recovered from the Australian outback, as planned, while Hayabusa itself burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. The sample payload – approximately 1500 grains averaging 10 micrometers in diameter – reveals that Itokawa has a composition virtually identical to a chondrite meteorite. A significant achievement in the history of the Japanese space program, the Hayabusa mission inspires no fewer than three movies, and a sequel of its own: the Hayabusa-2 space probe, approved in August 2010 and scheduled for launch in 2014.