It came back yesterday, landing in Australia: Japan's asteroid lander Hayabusa. It may sound like the title of a drive-in midnight movie (the linked video in the previous line is pretty amazing!) but it's the real deal; most of the vehicle shreddded and roasted on the return through Earth's atmosphere, as it was designed to, but -- Holy Andromeda Strain! -- the payload was protected, popped out ahead of the main ball'o'flame right on the mark, and slammed down to Australia's Woomera Range, plaintive beacon beeping out "here I am!"
Seven years to go there and back, "there" being Itokawa asteroid, where it touched down in 2005 (remember? Me neither; well, dimly).
It's humanity's first tiny bit of asteroid mining! Here's hopin' we'll do plenty more, and soon.
3 weeks ago