November 25, 2012

Japan to seek seeds of life in asteroid mission (VIDEO)

Japan's space agency, JAXA, is preparing for a mission to an asteroid where it hopes to find clues to the origins of life on Earth. In 2010 a similar mission successfuly brought asteroid samples back to Earth for examination but this next attempt, set for 2014, is aiming even higher. Rob Muir has more.
Nov. 22 - Hitoshi Kuninaka is pondering Japan's next ambitious mission into space. He leads a team planning to send a spacecraft called Hyabusa 2, on a journey through space to a distant asteroid call 1999 JU3.

The asteroid is widely believed to contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth. Kuninaka and his team want to collect samples and bring them back to see what they're made of. "We hope to get older information than is possible from stone-type asteroids from this type of carbon asteroid by taking samples. We hope to find the key to the creation of the solar system and the birth of life." Hyabusa 2 is a more ambitious mission than its predecessor Hyabusa 1.

That mission, which ended in 2010 returned with samples from another asteroid, Itokawa. But problems with the equipment onboard hampered the collection effort and only microscopic dust particles could be retrieved. This time, the space agency is taking a different approach. 

The craft will conduct research over a period of eighteen months but prior to leaving, it will deploy a device designed to explode above the surface to create a crater into which the craft will land. "At that point it's then possible to take a sample of the fresher material inside the crater or the material knocked out from the crater." And then, Hyabusa will begin its long journey home.

The mission will cost more than 400 million dollars but, if all goes according to plan, Kuninaka says Hyabusa 2 will return to Earth, loaded with samples he hopes will reveal the origins of life.



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