Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft returns to Earth in South Australia
JAPAN'S Hayabusa spacecraft performed on queue last night, streaking across the sky like a shooting star and dropping its precious cargo to earth.
Although the spacecraft burnt up on re-entry, the little saucer-shaped capsule represents the successful end of a scientific expedition that began on May 9, 2003.
That's when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched Hayabusa on a 2 billion km journey to the asteroid Itokawa, named for Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa.
Hayabusa made two landings on the asteroid's surface, hopefully gathering the first samples of such an object ever collected from beyond Earth.
When news of the capsule's successful landing near Glendambo, South Australia, in the Woomera Protected Area about 11:51pm AEST news was immediately transmitted to JAXA headquarters.
“Today is the greatest moment for us,” said Yoshiyuki Hasegawa, JAXA associate executive director.
Today, JAXA and NASA scientists will recover the capsule and ready it for transport in an air-tight container to JAXA's planetary sample facility in Sagamihara.
There, the capsule will be opened and scientists will know for sure if Hayabusa, peregrin falcon, did indeed collect the precious sample of Itokawa's rocky surface.