Bringing Back a Piece of Heaven

A damaged Japanese space probe is limping back home with what scientists pray will be a little piece of an asteroid from deep space

3 min read

23 March 2010—A small, severely damaged spacecraft named Hayabusa is limping back to Earth with a jury-rigged ion drive that would have made Star Trek’ s Scotty proud. Already seven years into its planned five-year mission to retrieve soil samples from an asteroid, the probe faces one last round of hazards before its midnight landing in Australia sometime in June with a sample canister.

If successful, the mission will mark the first retrieval of material samples from an object beyond the moon. (Two earlier NASA probes, Stardust and Genesis, retrieved nothing more than space dust from such distances.) Yet even if the canister turns out to be empty, the probe will still have brought back useful scientific observations, demonstrated the technology, and provided an inspirational example of ingenuity and perseverance.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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