May 9, 2003: Japan launches Hayabusa mission to asteroid

On May 9, 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the first-ever asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa. This was also the first mission to land on an asteroid.

Hayabusa would spend about two years chasing down a near-Earth asteroid called 25143 Itokawa. It then landed on the asteroid, scooped up some samples, and returned to Earth in 2010. Hayabusa may have accomplished its mission, but it was also constantly plagued with technical difficulties.

The problems started six months after the launch, when a huge solar flare damaged the solar arrays. This reduced the amount of power the solar panels could supply to its ion engines, so it look an extra three months to reach the asteroid.

After finally getting there, Hayabusa tried to drop off a tiny robotic lander called MINERVA, but it drifted off into space without even touching the asteroid. Hayabusa itself made two separate landing attempts, both of which were riddled with problems that put the spacecraft into safe mode. But somehow it still managed to bring some asteroid dust back to Earth.


3rd May 2021

From Micheal Collins 1974 book, Carrying the Fire:

“I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon. I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God only knows what on this side. I feel this powerfully ― not as fear or loneliness ― but as awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation. I like the feeling. Outside my window I can see stars — and that is all. Where I know the moon to be, there is simply a black void; the moon’s presence is defined solely by the absence of stars. To compare the sensation with something terrestrial, perhaps being alone in a skiff in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a pitch-black night would most nearly approximate my situation.”

RIP Micheal Collins