My colleague Dan Nosowitz just posted some details on Hayabusa’s journey to the asteroid Itokawa, which you can read here.
The Japanese spacecraft was the first spacecraft ever to make contact with an asteroid and return to Earth, although whether any asteroid material made it back to Earth remains to be seen. A team of Japanese and American scientists are working to retrieve the capsule from the Australian desert where it landed.
In the meantime, though, check out this breath-taking video of Hayabusa’s re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere that was shot by a group of NASA and JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronomers flying alongside the spacecraft on-board NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory.
As I wrote last week, an American spacecraft, Dawn, is en-route now to two other asteroids — Vesta and Ceres — as part of NASA’s exploration of the Asteroid Belt in preparation for sending humans there one day.