Japanese spacecraft touches down on asteroid, collects samples

A photo taken by Hayabusa2 shows the shadow of the Japanese spacecraft as it lands on the asteroid Ryugu on Feb. 22.
(AFP/Getty Images)

A Japanese spacecraft touched down on a distant asteroid Friday on a mission to collect material that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

Workers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency control center applauded as a signal sent from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft indicated it had touched down.

During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 is programmed to extend a pipe and shoot a pinball-like object into the asteroid to blow up material from beneath the surface. If that succeeds, the craft would collect samples to eventually be sent back to Earth. Three such touchdowns are planned.


Japanese Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said the space agency had concluded from its data after the first touchdown that the steps to collect samples were performed successfully.

JAXA, as the Japanese space agency is known, has likened the touchdown attempts to trying to land on a baseball mound from the spacecraft’s operating location of 12 miles above the asteroid.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 3,000 feet in diameter and 170 million miles from Earth.