China's mission to retrieve moon rocks isn't the only successful space feat in the news these days. A small capsule containing asteroid soil samples that was dropped from 136,700 miles in space by Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft landed as planned in the Australian Outback on Sunday, per the AP. After a preliminary inspection, it will be flown to Japan for research on Tuesday. "We were able to land the treasure box," said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. "I really look forward to opening it and looking inside." Launched on Dec. 3, 2014, the unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down twice on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 190 million miles away from Earth. The spacecraft successfully collected data and soil samples during the 1½ years it spent near Ryugu after arriving there in June 2018.
Hayabusa2 left the asteroid a year ago. After it released the capsule on Saturday, it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid, according to a separate AP story. Scientists say they believe the samples, especially ones taken from under the asteroid's surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors. They are particularly interested in organic materials in the samples to find out how they're distributed in the solar system and related to life on Earth. Japan hopes to use the expertise and technology used in the Hayabusa2 in the future, perhaps in its 2024 MMX sample-return mission to a Martian moon. After about a year, some of the samples will be shared with NASA and other international scientists. About 40% of them will be stored for future research. (Read more space exploration stories.)