Japan awaits spacecraft return with asteroid soil samples

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FILE – This computer graphics image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the Hayabusa2 spacecraft above the asteroid Ryugu. The Japanese space agency said Friday they are all set for the spacecraft′s final approach to Earth this weekend to deliver a capsule containing valuable samples of a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system. (ISAS/JAXA via AP, File)

TOKYO (Associated Press) — Japan’s space agency says the Hayabusa2 spacecraft has successfully separated a capsule and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet.

The capsule successfully detached Saturday from 136,700 miles away in a challenging operation that required precision control. It’s now descending to land in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia, on Sunday.

The return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples comes weeks after a NASA spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from another asteroid.

China this week said its lunar lander collected underground samples as space developing nations compete in their missions.

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