TOKYO – A small capsule from the Hayabusa2 space probe hopefully containing soil samples from a distant asteroid that will help explain the origins of life arrived in Japan on Tuesday, two days after it was retrieved from the Australian desert.
The capsule was transported by truck to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Sagamihara Campus in Kanagawa Prefecture from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where a plane carrying it touched down early in the morning.
“The samples are now in a safe environment,” JAXA Vice President Hitoshi Kuninaka said at a press conference after the capsule was brought into the facility at 11:27 a.m. “We would like to conduct a thorough analysis.”
While the six-year mission has so far proceeded smoothly, Kuninaka revealed that the agency had considered changing the date for the retrieval of the capsule due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We made the decision to show the world that we were ready to recover (the capsule) at any cost,” Kuninaka said.
“What had been on another world is now in front of our eyes. It’s like a dream,” Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager told reporters.
Referring to the space probe, which is currently on its next journey to a different asteroid, he added that Hayabusa2 “worked really hard.”
The capsule, which was released from the space probe on Saturday afternoon, landed in a desert near the Woomera Prohibited Area, a remote Australian military and civil aerospace facility.
Gas samples believed to be from the asteroid were observed in a preliminary analysis conducted in Australia, JAXA has said.
A rocket carrying Hayabusa2 was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center in December 2014 to look for clues about the formation of the solar system and the origin of life.
The Ryugu asteroid’s subsurface rock, unaffected by solar flares, is believed to have remained in the same state since the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago.
The probe reached Ryugu in June 2018 before touching down on it twice the following year. It apparently succeeded in collecting the first-ever asteroid subsurface samples after creating an artificial crater by shooting a copper projectile at the asteroid, according to JAXA.