A Japanese space probe that landed on the surface of an asteroid last month may have failed in its mission to collect rock samples that could give clues to the origin of the solar system.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has likened the Hayabusa ("falcon") craft's landing to putting a jumbo jet in a moving Grand Canyon.
It says &to=http://english.pravda.ru/science/2005/11/04/66962.html' target=_blank>Hayabusa had touched down on the asteroid, nearly 300 million kilometres from Earth.
But it may have failed to shoot a five gram metal ball towards the surface to collect into a capsule the debris unleashed as a result of the impact, reports ABC Online.
With use of its thrusters, &to=http://english.pravda.ru/science/19/94/378/14269_aliens.html' target=_blank>Hayabusa will not be able to position itself for a journey back to Earth. In addition, even if the thrusters can be recovered, spacecraft operators are not sure there is enough fuel for the return trip home.
JAXA has said the probe needs to leave its orbit by early- to mid-December. After that, the re-entry angle needed to return to Earth becomes much steeper, making the return capsule more vulnerable, according to Emily Lakdawalla, science and technology coordinator with The Planetary Society, a California-based space advocacy group that is monitoring Hayabusa's mission.
While many pieces of asteroids have been recovered on Earth, scientists so far have no direct samples from any celestial body other than the moon.