Around 6 pm on Thursday night, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 touched down on Ryugu—a distant asteroid.
The craft wasn’t there to make friends, something it promptly proved by firing a bullet into the asteroid. The goal, according to officials at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is for Hayabusa 2 to collect debris from the asteroid to bring back to Earth for testing.
It marks the completion of a long and arduous journey for Hayabusa 2. The craft was deployed in 2014, taking nearly four years to complete its 2 billion mile journey to Ryugu’s orbit in June of 2018. After dropping rovers onto the asteroid’s surface for months, Hayabusa 2 finally landed on the rock itself to fire the bullet and collect the subsequent debris.
The craft was reportedly successful in gathering the sample.
Japan's space agency is celebrating the Hayabusa2 probe's successful landing on the asteroid Ryugu. It's mission is to collect samples to better understand the origins of life. NHK WORLD's Moshe Komata has this look back at how it was made possible. pic.twitter.com/RKG8bRPr6a
— NHK WORLD News (@NHKWORLD_News) February 22, 2019
Now, the craft will make the treacherous 3 billion mile journey back home, where it’s expected to drop the sample at a location over Australia, but it won’t reach Earth’s atmosphere until at least 2020.
Judging by Twitter, it will be arriving to a warm reception.
#Humanity is awesome, #Space #Science edition: Japanese robot Hayabusa 2 flies to an asteroid, orbits it for a year, drops probes, does a precise soft touchdown in microgravity to grab a sample, and will fly all the way back to Earth with that sample.https://t.co/7kCIiYEXcD
— Brian Olson (@boooolson) February 22, 2019
Whatever you’re doing in an hour, this incredible, brilliant nonsense will be happening in space https://t.co/Q0BbgHKMrN
— Mat Larkin (@matchtrick) February 21, 2019
Truly exciting to hear what's happening 300mill. km away from earth. Safe travel home! https://t.co/T3ewZhkKUX
— naoko tochibayashi (@naotochibayashi) February 22, 2019
Go Hayabusa-2! Grab some Ryugu to bring home. https://t.co/cRlOBvX92k
— Henry Alwyn Wootten (@awootten) February 21, 2019
Americans also had the most American response ever.
Infamous for the epidemic of gun violence plaguing the nation, Americans couldn’t help but relate the bullet back to that.
Thoughts and prayers to the asteroid and it’s family.
— Lina Abz (@lina_abz) February 22, 2019
Japan shot up an asteroid before America got a chance to pull the trigger? Well color me suprised.
— Beefsister (@URAsupragenius) February 22, 2019
Now we shooting in outer space too ?
— Puneeth Kumar (@itspuneeth) February 22, 2019
That's the most American thing I….wait
— Jake Lockley (@Fire_In_Babylon) February 22, 2019
Unlike the crisis of gun violence, Japan’s efforts represent the power of human innovation. NASA wished them luck as its own officials prepare for a similar mission.
Good luck to @JAXA_en and the Hayabusa2 team with the planned touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu. With both Hayabusa and NASA’s @OSIRISREx working to return samples to Earth, it’s an exciting time for asteroid explorers. https://t.co/Z9RZH5V9r9 https://t.co/qqffF2fxLv
— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) February 21, 2019
Save travels home, Hayabusa 2!