TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese space probe will make another attempt at landing on an asteroid on Saturday after it successfully landed and then departed from its surface over the weekend, officials said Thursday.
The Hayabusa probe was heading back toward the asteroid Itokawa and expected to land on the asteroid around 7 a.m. Saturday.
On Wednesday, the agency announced that the probe had successfully landed on the asteroid 180 million miles from Earth in an attempt on Sunday, overturning an initial announcement that the attempt had failed.
The probe landed on the asteroid within about 100 feet of the landing target for about half an hour although it failed to collect material, according to JAXA.
JAXA Associate Executive Director Yasunori Matogawa said it was the first time that a probe had successfully landed on an asteroid and then taken off.
After Sunday’s landing, there has been no damage found on the body of the probe or any trouble that would hamper an attempt to land on the asteroid, collect material, and then bring it back to Earth, an official said.
Hayabusa was about 19 to 25 miles from the asteroid as of late Thursday, he said.
Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and has until early December before it must leave orbit and begin its 180 million-mile journey home. It is expected to return to Earth and land in the Australian Outback in June 2007.
Examining asteroid samples is expected to help unlock secrets of how celestial bodies were formed because their surfaces are believed to have remained relatively unchanged over the eons, unlike those of larger bodies such the planets or moons, JAXA said.
A NASA probe collected data for two weeks from the Manhattan-sized asteroid Eros in 2001, but did not return with samples.
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