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NASA Space Science

No Samples On Japan's Hayabusa Asteroid Probe 147

eldavojohn writes "Reports are coming in that JAXA's Hayabusa probe may have come up empty-handed in its bid to collect asteroid matter. There may be gas in the probe but no dust samples as many hoped. Murphy's Law seemed to ride with Hayabusa. 'After landing in 2005 on the Itokawa asteroid, which is about one-third mile long and shaped like a potato, the probe's sample-capture mechanism went awry. To the public's dismay, JAXA officials said they were not sure whether any samples had been collected. Next, the probe's robotic rover, meant to take photos and temperature readings on the asteroid, inexplicably floated off into space and was never heard from again. Worse yet, after Hayabusa took off from the asteroid, all four of NEC's ion engines shut down. So did all 12 of the chemical-fueled rocket engines made by another space industry giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The probe was left drifting in space. Then, for more than seven weeks, for reasons still not clear, there were no communication signals from the probe. Public dismay quickly turned to derision and, eventually, indifference.' The probe did return, however, and JAXA hoped to salvage something, but now it appears that the only thing it accomplished was one long and error-prone journey."
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No Samples On Japan's Hayabusa Asteroid Probe

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  • Win some lose some (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:02AM (#32771920) Homepage

    Whatever. The fact that they successfully landed on a freakin' moving asteroid is an accomplishment in itself.

  • by CraftyJack ( 1031736 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:04AM (#32771946)
    The Hayabusa team managed to recover a severely f'ed spacecraft on a shoestring budget despite misfortune on top of misfortune. Congratulations to them.
  • Re:sad news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:33AM (#32772262) Journal

    Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

    - T. Roosevelt

  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:42AM (#32772356)

    Let's hope that JAXA is not put off trying other missions of this type...they deserve our support.

    Why? If it was one or two component failures or a bad situation, that would be one thing- but virtually every system malfunctioned or never worked in the first place.

    There is little to account for that except gross incompetence, and people who are grossly incompetent deserve to be fired, not "supported"- or at the very least, not given the same job again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 02, 2010 @09:51AM (#32772496)

    Awwww, did I hurt some nerd's little feelings? The fact that the OP wrote "Based on all other attempts to return physical samples from an extraterrestrial body" suggests complete ignorance of history.
    It is quite simple to return samples from extraterrestrial bodies.
    However, it is one thing to run a dictatorship with no concern for economic viability and claiming that we can mine asteroids. For one thing, the human race has been tooling around space for decades now. Not a single one of the grandiose Space Age dreams have become reality. It's simply because we don't have the energy or technology to do any of them. If those dreams had any value whatsoever, someone would have attempted them.

    The other thing is that if we suddenly *did* have the energy and technology to do it, you wouldn't need to do it. You'd have everything you need on Earth.

  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:00AM (#32772598) Homepage

    Thankfully the Japanese don't see it that way.

    In an American company when something goes wrong, somebody is fired.

    In a Japanese company when something goes wrong, they try to figure out what went wrong and fix it som that doesn't happen again. Explains why they overtook the US auto industry so quickly. Also explains how they turned a feudal agricultural economy in the 1800s to an industrial one only 30 years later.

    Also NASA does the same thing, when a problem occurs, they look for the problem in the process that allowed the defect to get to production.

    Space is hard, you don't get it right by firing people every time there is a setback, the culture you espose only gets you more of the same, nothing new, like missions to asteroids.

  • by achurch ( 201270 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:03AM (#32772654) Homepage

    Of course things are going to go wrong. They in fact succeeded at their primary objective, which was to run the ion engines for 1,000 hours; everything beyond that is a bonus. If anything, the engineers involved ought to be praised for being able to work around all those problems and get the thing back to Earth.

  • by yesterdaystomorrow ( 1766850 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:10AM (#32772736)

    They landed a probe on an asteroid, and returned it to Earth.

    They made measurements and took pictures in incredible detail. That Itokawa is apparently a low-density "rubble pile" was a surprise, and surprising science is the best kind!

    They did this on a budget that was tiny by NASA's standards.

    They learned a lot about the strengths and limitations of their technology. If Japan can recover the political courage to support this kind of ambitious mission, and if JAXA can recover the courage to let its scientists and engineers do the best possible job without management interference, they'll most likely do much better the next time around.

    Why is there so much negativity about this incredible mission?

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @10:27AM (#32772956)

    Hayabusa was not a failure, failure of the sample return or no. It returned a lot of information about a near Earth asteroid including (to me) the very fundamental result that the regolith appears to be well mixed. This means that the asteroid is not just a lump of rubble but something is stirring material from inside to the surface and back again. This will prove very significant when we start doing engineering on asteroids (such as mining or setting up bases).

    Traveling in deep space is tough. All of the countries that have done it have suffered through a pretty steep learning curve. Japan's space agency should be congratulated for pulling this off; I hope that the (undeserved) bad press doesn't make them shy from trying innovative missions such as Hayabusa in the future.

  • by Myopic ( 18616 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @11:16AM (#32773684)

    Seriously. I have a hard time deciding whether people who post crap like that on the internet actually think in ridiculously untenably black-and-white terms, whether they are using intentional hyperbole, or whether they are trolling.

  • by Myopic ( 18616 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:01PM (#32774460)

    The metric system is a mediocre improvement over the imperial system, but I'd rather some other system altogether.

    We need a system which, first of all, has units which are meaningful to humans. British units are like this: a cup is a useful measure, but a liter is a bit too large. Kilograms are okay, but that's a confusing screwup of the concept of base units -- a single gram is too small to be useful. A meter is both too long to measure human-scale things and too short to measure large things.

    We also need a system which divides evenly by two and three. British units are like this, too, most of the time: twelve inches in a foot; so what's a third of a foot? four inches, even. But what's a third of a meter? Some repeating decimal. (This is a difficult request because it might require rethinking the most common way that humans count, in base-ten, but hey that can't be harder than rethinking the entire way we measure everything.)

    Metric clearly wins hands-down based on easy conversion up and down the scale. Metric also wins for overall consistency. British wins for useful base measures and numerical divisibility (sometimes). It would be swell if metric had been thought out just a little better, but I'd still prefer it to the British system; and yet I'd still rather something better than either one.

  • Re:BTTF Reference (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @12:54PM (#32775574) Homepage

    I can't help but wonder whether the difference in culture plays a role in the success of these kinds of missions. I don't really understand why, but despite the ridiculously rigorous education in Japan, they have very few Fields Medal winners. No South Korean has ever won a Nobel Prize despite being one of the most technologically innovative nations in the world.

    The thing is, I don't care how many 150 hour weeks these scientists put into homework when they were 9 years old, I'd rather have a bunch of MIT hackers building my space probe. Somehow our way works, and theirs doesn't. It's probably something to do with Western students thinking more critically because they're trained to question everything they hear... such a difference could easily affect long-term outcomes.

  • by ubermiester ( 883599 ) * on Friday July 02, 2010 @01:22PM (#32776072)

    In an American company when something goes wrong, somebody is fired. In a Japanese company when something goes wrong, they try to figure out what went wrong and fix it som that doesn't happen again.

    I understand that there are a lot of pissed off unemployed people out there, but let's stop with the US bashing please. American tech companies are among the most efficient and successful in the world - Intel, IBM, Apple, Microsoft, J&J, Boeing, 3M, etc, etc, etc, etc. And though the US auto manufactures started to bloat in the 1970's, Ford at least has become more efficient than ever. (BTW, Toyota is not exactly at the peak of its powers at the moment).

    There is always room for improvement and I'm not a love-it-or-leave-it type, but claiming that all US companies are somehow inferior is simply wrong. Success breeds arrogance which breeds laziness, but that applies to a small portion of the largest institutions when they are no longer driven by growth and innovation but by stability and stock price (once again, see Toyota). Most mid sized and many large companies in the US can compete with any other in the world. And though China makes many of the products sold in the US, those products are designed by American companies.

  • by surveyork ( 1505897 ) on Friday July 02, 2010 @06:31PM (#32780774) Journal
    Contrast what this article says (Ohhh! Nothing found!) with this one: http://www.rtve.es/noticias/20100629/tesoro-extraterrestre-encerrado-capsula-hayabusa/337615.shtml [www.rtve.es] (Spanish, Google translator is your friend) "Confirmed. The probe Hayabusa has brought asteroid dust. JAXA scientists have not opened the probe yet [...] but they made a X ray analysis and learned that inside of the capsule there are some particles smaller than a millimeter." They link to http://www.jaxa.jp/press/2010/06/20100624_hayabusa_e.html [www.jaxa.jp] for the particle confirmation, but there's nothing of the sorts here. So, while some journalists claim that nothing (aside from gas) was found, some others claim that there really are some dust particles inside. All this, while JAXA just says that they are still working on it. Who needs facts when you have a news story?

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission