Japan Just Became the First Country to Land a Probe on an Asteroid

September 23, 2018, 4:33 PM UTC

Japan landed two unmanned rovers on a 1-kilometer-wide asteroid Saturday, the first time robot rovers have successfully landed on an asteroid surface.

“I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan. This is just a real charm of deep space exploration,” Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency, told CNN.

The two rovers together are called MINERVA-II1. The rovers came from the spacecraft Hayabusa2. The asteroid is named Ryugu, CNN reported.

The rovers hop and float across the asteroid—thanks to its low gravity—to capture information including photos and the asteroid’s temperature.

Since landing, the rovers have sent back photos and data. This asteroid is believed to be a particularly early one, with a wealth of water and organic material that will shed light on the “building blocks of Earth.”

In early October, JAXA, Japan’s space agency, plans to launch a third rover. At the end of next month, the spacecraft itself is supposed to land on the asteroid and blow a small crater in it to reach samples that haven’t before been exposed to space.

The spacecraft will leave the asteroid in December 2019 to return to Earth by the end of 2020. NASA is working on a similar mission, due back in 2023.

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