Scientists peer inside Hayabusa asteroid capsule
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: June 25, 2010
Scientists inside a spotless clean room near Tokyo are carefully opening the drum-shaped capsule from the Hayabusa mission, beginning months of tedious evaluations to determine whether the $200 million mission returned dust grains from an asteroid.
Assisted by NASA representatives, Japanese scientists are opening the capsule in an ultra-clean curation facility at JAXA's Sagamihara campus near Tokyo.
The craft was flown from Australia to Tokyo, then transported to Sagamihara on June 18.
An X-ray of the canister showed no sample grains larger than 1 millimeter, or about 1/25 of an inch, according to JAXA.
After cleaning the capsule and opening its outer shell, scientists measured a small amount of a trace gas from the cylindrical capsule buried deep inside the re-entry craft.
JAXA is analyzing the gas to determine what its made of and if it was picked up at the asteroid.
Hayabusa touched down on Itokawa twice during its survey of the asteroid in late 2005, but its sample collection system failed to activate as planned. The snafu means Hayabusa almost certainly did not gather large bits of rock from Itokawa, but JAXA officials believe some small grains of dust may have been funneled into the sample chamber in the microgravity environment.
Once the capsule is opened, scientists will pull the sample catcher from the craft and move it to an adjacent room in a special apparatus designed to limit the container's exposure to contaminants from Earth.
Scientists plan to use a microscope and spectrometer to gauge the size, origin and chemical make-up of the samples.