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Walking on the Moon

Japan's 'Hayabusa' Asteroid Probe Prepares to Drop Lander


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November 2, 2005

Japan's Hayabusa [Asteroid Probe] is preparing to drop its tiny lander, Minerva, on the surface of the asteroid Itokawa Friday, and, at the same time, rehearse for two "soft" landings and sample collections to take place later this month.

Hayabusa is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's $170-million-dollar mission to this near-Earth asteroid -- and the world's first mission to attempt to land on an asteroid, collect samples, and return them to Earth. After overcoming a host of obstacles, including several life-threatening solar flares on its 1-billion kilometer journey (about 620 million miles), the JAXA spacecraft finally arrived at Itokawa in September.

Currently, Hayabusa -- which means "falcon" in Japanese -- is "hovering" 4.4 kilometers (about 2.7 miles) from Itokawa, as team members put the spacecraft through its final paces and instrument calibrations in preparation for the coming events this month. The schedule is as follows:

November 4: Hayabusa will descend to just 30 meters (about 100 feet) above the asteroid's surface, and release a target marker, followed by the release of Minerva, which will land, then hop about the asteroid collecting data and taking images.

November 12: Hayabusa will make its first "soft" landing and collect its first sample, then return to its "home orbit," and continue studying the asteroid.

November 25: Hayabusa makes its second "soft" landing for its second sample collection, then, once again, will return to its "home orbit," several kilometers above the asteroid.


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