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Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft returns to Earth after asteroid visit (video)


Japan's plans for sending robots to the moon may still have to wait another decade or so, but the country's space program can now claim another pretty huge victory -- its Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned to Earth on Sunday after visiting an asteroid to collect samples. That end to the spacecraft's seven-year mission occurred somewhere in the Australian outback and, as you can see above and in the video after the break, it was quite a sight to behold. Despite appearances, however, the breaking up of the spacecraft was actually part of the plan, and Hayabusa's main return capsule is said to have made it to Earth intact -- although it's still not clear if the capsule actually contains any samples of the asteroid. Scientists should know what they have on their hands soon enough, though -- the space agency says it expects to retrieve the capsule sometime on Monday.

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