by Thomas Zurbuchen
Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Today marks an exciting and historic event as precious samples from asteroid Ryugu have been brought to Earth by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 mission. This is an extremely challenging endeavor and we commend and congratulate Japan on being not only the first nation that has been able to carry out a successful asteroid retrieval mission, but to now have done so for the second time!
We are excited about our collaboration between JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission and NASA’s asteroid sample return mission – OSIRIS-REx, which extracted a sample from near-Earth asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20. Our mutually beneficial partnership with Japan allows us to share samples from NASA’s mission at Bennu and receive a portion of JAXA’s sample from Ryugu. Together, we will gain a better understanding of the origins of our solar system, and the source of water and organic molecules that could have seeded life on Earth.
Our model of sharing samples is a testament to the unprecedented partnership For the U.S. and Japan have built over half a century in aeronautics research and human and robotic space exploration. Together, our two spacecraft have traveled millions of miles to touch the ancient solar system. With Hayabusa2’s return today, and OSIRIS-REx’s return in less than three years, we will be able to share the science and insights we gain from these invaluable samples with all of humanity.
The fact that humans can launch a spacecraft from Earth, have it rendezvous so accurately with a small target and delicately touch the surface to collect a sample is just incredible and shows the tenacity of the human spirit. Missions like Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx give us hope. They inspire us to persevere through the many challenges faced with such challenging endeavors, and they teach us the power of working together – not as one nation or as one agency, but together as humans who share a home on this pale blue dot.
And what’s most exciting is that this is just the beginning. The return of Hayabusa-2 is the start of a decade of trailblazing missions to explore the Moon together, as part of Artemis, and to return samples from distant bodies, including JAXA’s upcoming Martian Moons eXploration mission and NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission. Our collaboration with Japan will provide invaluable science and critical knowledge for expanding humanity’s presence deeper into the solar system.
Congratulations again to JAXA and its partners, the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Government of Australia including the Australian Space Agency), and to the Japanese people. This is a great day for science and exploration.