Japan’s spacecraft Hayabusa2 succeeded in making a second landing on the asteroid Ryugu, a space rock orbiting between Earth and Mars, at about 10 A.M. on July 11, Japan Time. And the likelihood that the space probe successfully accomplished its task of scooping up pristine subsurface materials from the asteroid is quite high.
The flawless touchdown on Ryugu — about 250 million kilometers (about 15.5 million miles) away from Earth — was the second by Hayabusa2 in 2019. The first touchdown in February also achieved its highly difficult mission of blasting an artificial crater on the asteroid’s surface, exposing uncontaminated subsurface materials, expected to clarify the origins and development of the solar system.
Japan has thus demonstrated to the world the high quality of its technology in the field of asteroid probes. We heartily applaud the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) team for their “courage to take on challenges.”
The success of Hayabusa2 comes from the team’s spirit of “Let’s do everything we can,” inherited from their predecessors who undertook the first JAXA Hayabusa (falcon) project.
Reportedly there was some anxiety within the team about the risks accompanying the second Ryugu landing. Valuable materials gathered during the first Hayabusa2 landing would be lost if the spacecraft was unable to return to Earth because of a problem with the second touchdown.
Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager, however, dared to give the go-ahead for the second landing at the last minute. As he later explained, “Given that the very mission of Hayabusa2 has been the confrontation of consecutive challenges on the strength of our accumulated technological ability, not going for the second landing was not an option.”
The first generation of Hayabusa narrowly managed to return successfully to earth in 2010, after miraculously weathering such grave crises as the breakdown in its ability to communicate and the failure of all its engines. Hayabusa2 built its mission on all that was learned from the problems overcome by the first generation probe. In turn, it succeeded in landing twice on the asteroid Ryugu and accomplished the new task of creating an artificial crater on the asteroid’s surface.
The courage of the first generation Hayabusa team as it faced formidable challenges — yet maintained the confidence to move forward — has been handed down to its successors, the Hayabusa2 team.
For Hayabusa2, however, the most important task has yet to be completed: returning to Earth in late 2020, after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. We sincerely hope the team will do its best to ensure the spacecraft’s safe return to Earth with its invaluable samples from the asteroid.
Thanks to its two successful landings on the asteroid, Hayabusa2’s treasure box of samples from Ryugu must be bursting at the seams. This treasure is expected to shed light on the origins of the solar system and life itself dating back some 4.6 billion years.
Hopefully there will be no “dramatic miracles” such as those encountered by the first generation Hayabusa. However, in the event unforeseen contingencies do arise, we trust the team will calmly overcome them.
It is indeed a significant accomplishment that, while Japan’s prowess in science and technology has been waning in recent years, Hayabusa2’s impressive feats have increased Japan’s international esteem in the field of space exploration. We hope this will lead to a revitalization and resurgence of all sciences for the nation as a whole.
It is the younger generation of scientists and researchers, including junior and senior high school students, who will carry forward Japan’s contributions in the future. We hope they will learn from the Hayabusa teams the importance of having the courage to take on challenges.
It goes without saying that government policies supporting and encouraging the next generation to take on challenges are of vital importance.
(Follow this link for additional coverage of the voyage and achievements of Hayabusa2.)
(Click here to read this editorial in its original Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun