Five years after making contact with a remote asteroid, Japan's Hayabusa space probe came back to Earth on Sunday, landing in the Australian Outback after a fabulous fireball.
Officers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are not certain whether the probe was successful in gathering samples from asteroid Itokawa after its three-month meeting with the tiny space rock in 2005. They would be the initial samples coming from the face of an asteroid.
The probe blazed on re-entry, smudging through the night sky, and Hayabusa's heat-resistant box came down with the help of a parachute in South Australia's Woomera Prohibited Range.
Opened on an M-V-5 Rocket from the Kagoshima Space Center in 2003, Hayabusa (meaning "falcon" in Japanese) had a string of troubles with its ion engines, communications, and other gear.
But it touched Itokawa, about 186 million miles from Earth in November 2005. Breakdowns postponed its comeback to the planet by three years.
The probe's sample capture device botched when Hayabusa met with the asteroid, but JAXA officers think that it might have punted on sand that went into the container. Executives are now retrieving the container to look for material.
The container will be examined after its relocation to Japan, but canvassers might take weeks or months before being able to declare with conviction whether samples were recovered.