November 23, 2005

Japanese space probe lands on asteroid -Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese probe on a mission to bring
back the first rock samples from an asteroid landed briefly on
its target on Sunday but did not drop the equipment for
collecting surface material, Kyodo news reported on Wednesday.

Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
(JAXA) had said earlier the unmanned probe failed to touch down
on Itokawa, nearly 300 million km (186 million miles) from

After a voyage of 2- years, the space probe stayed on the
surface of the 548-metre-long asteroid for 30 minutes, marking
the first landing by a Japanese spacecraft on a celestial body,
Kyodo said.

The agency will decide on Thursday whether to have the
probe attempt a second landing, the news service report added.

Asteroids, unlike larger space bodies such as the moon, are
believed to contain rocks that have remained largely unchanged
since the early days of the solar system and could thus offer
valuable information about its origins.

Information about structure could also be vital if an
asteroid were found to be on a collision course with the earth.

The probe, called Hayabusa (Japanese for "falcon"), has
already sent back a series of detailed images of the asteroid,
which Japanese media noted looks like a potato.

In a photograph, taken on Sunday and published on JAXA Web
the probe's shadow can be made out on Itokawa's surface.

Itokawa is named after pioneering Japanese rocket scientist
Hideo Itokawa.