A JAPANESE spacecraft was today due to land a probe on an asteroid in the first stage of a mission to bring bits of it back to Earth.
The £100million Hayabusa mothership was last night flying alongside its target, a 600-yard long sausage-shaped rock called Itokawa.
But early today, an unexplained fault caused mission controllers to cancel the day’s action.
Hayabusa, which means Falcon in Japanese, was due to release its tea-caddy sized lander Minerva today after a 620million mile journey to the asteroid.
Minerva, which weighs only about one pound, should then have touched down then hopped around the asteroid taking 3-D photos and collecting data.
Later this month, the amazing unmanned mission is due to get more daring.
Hayabusa will move in from its present position less than three miles from Itokawa and move right alongside to brush up against it.
On November 12 and then again on the 25th, it will fire pellets into the asteroid’s surface, then collect rubble and dust ejected for return to Earth.
Hayabusa, which was launched in May 2003, will leave the asteroid in December and begin its long journey back to Earth, parachuting the samples it has collected to a landing in the Australian outback in June 2007.
UK space expert Robin Scagell said last night: “If the Japanese pull this off, it will be an incredible feat.”
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