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Video: Hayabusa Spacecraft's Fiery Return From Asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa, the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to Earth, made a fiery reentry over southern Australia Sunday night. Scientists hope the craft's capsule contains samples from the asteroid Itokowa.

©2010 National Geographic; video courtesy NASA



The Japanese-built Hayabusa spacecraft re-entered earth’s atmosphere Sunday night and put on a spectacular show as it burned up while traveling at the speed of an asteroid crashing to earth.

SOUNDBITE: Jay Grinstead, NASA Reentry Observation Project Mgr.

“Hayabusa’s return at 7 ½ miles per second is rare. Something like this is not going to happen for several years at minimum.”

This video was recorded by a group of astronomers from NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, also known as JAXA, and other organizations.

They were aboard NASA’s DC-8 laboratory packed with cameras and other imaging instruments to capture the high-speed re-entry over an unpopulated area of South Australia.

The Japanese spacecraft spent seven years in space, including a short stop on the asteroid Itokowa five years ago. It has hopefully brought back samples from the asteroid.

It’s the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to earth.

Scientists recovered its space capsule Monday in Australia’s Outback.

The samples would initially be studied by a team of scientists in Japan, and then other scientists will have the opportunity to examine the materials.

The re-entry offered a new opportunity for scientists to observe how the spacecraft broke into pieces, and how well the heat shield material protected the capsule with the sample.

The data collected can be used for analysis for future earth re-entry voyages.