For many years, astronomers and engineers at various space agencies have been working towards achieving a very challenging goal – conducting a successful sample-return mission to a nearby asteroid. This June, the Japanese space agency JAXA could become the first to actually pull this off. Its battered Hayabusa space probe is currently on its way back after meeting up with the small, potato-shaped asteroid Itokawa, back in 2005. It is scheduled to drop a small canister containing the samples it collected from the surface of the space rock in the Australian outback, in only two months' time. Over the last five years, the small probe has suffered numerous glitches in various systems, which made its controllers almost call it quits on several occasions. However, the spacecraft proved to be more resilient than anyone thought, and engineers managed to patch things up from the ground sufficiently well to grant Hayabusa a fighting chance of reaching Earth. At this point, it is basically “limping” its way back home, but JAXA officials are convinced that it will eventually make it.
Posted by rlssec