TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese probe on a mission to bring back the first rock samples from an asteroid landed briefly on its target on Sunday but did not drop the equipment for collecting surface material, Kyodo news reported on Wednesday.
Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had said earlier the unmanned probe failed to touch down on Itokawa, nearly 300 million km from earth.
After a voyage of 2-½ years, the space probe stayed on the surface of the 548-metre-long asteroid for 30 minutes, marking the first landing by a Japanese spacecraft on a celestial body, Kyodo said.
The agency will decide on Thursday whether to have the probe attempt a second landing, the news service report added.
Asteroids, unlike larger space bodies such as the moon, are believed to contain rocks that have remained largely unchanged since the early days of the solar system and could thus offer valuable information about its origins.
Information about structure could also be vital if an asteroid were found to be on a collision course with the earth.
The probe, called Hayabusa (Japanese for "falcon"), has already sent back a series of detailed images of the asteroid, which Japanese media noted looks like a potato.
In a photograph, taken on Sunday and published on JAXA Web site http://www.isas.jaxa.jp/e/snews/2005/1110_hayabusa.shtml, the probe's shadow can be made out on Itokawa's surface.
Itokawa is named after pioneering Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa.
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