Capsule may hold solar system clues
ADELAIDE, Australia — A team of scientists flew to the Australian Outback yesterday and recovered a Japanese space capsule they hope contains asteroid samples providing clues into the evolution of the solar system.
The Hayabusa explorer returned to Earth Sunday night after a seven-year, 4-billion-mile journey, burning apart on reentry in a spectacular fireball just after jettisoning the capsule. It was the first time a spacecraft successfully landed on an asteroid and returned to Earth.
Seiichi Sakamoto of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which launched the explorer in 2003, said they were “delighted’’ to recover the capsule, particularly after a number of technical problems delayed Hayabusa’s arrival for three years.
Yesterday, two helicopters took scientists to the capsule’s landing site in the Woomera Prohibited Area, a remote military zone 300 miles northwest of the South Australian state capital of Adelaide.
The capsule was airlifted late yesterday afternoon to the town of Woomera, where it would be prepared over several days for air freighting to Japan, NASA scientist Scott Sandford said by telephone from the scientists’ base in Woomera.