'Ground Control to Baby Bot!'

Japanese Robot Lost in Asteroid Mission

from Reuters

TOKYO, Japan - A miniature robot released by a Japanese space probe to a small asteroid circling the sun was lost before it was able to land on the asteroid's surface, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said on Sunday.

Minerva, a can-shaped "baby" robot 3.9 inches long, had been designed to gather information on the Itokawa asteroid as part of a rehearsal ahead of the unmanned Hayabusa probe's own landing on the asteroid Itokawa, scheduled for November 19.

Equipped with a camera and thermometers, Minerva was meant to hop around Itokawa and send data such as surface temperatures and images back via Hayabusa, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Junichiro Kawaguchi, a professor at JAXA, said scientists had miscalculated the best moment to release Minerva, a task made difficult by Hayabusa's changing altitude over the asteroid.

Hayabusa, which was fired into space on May 9, 2003, has been hovering over Itokawa for almost two months. The spacecraft is designed to swoop down on the asteroid on two separate occasions and gather samples before returning to Earth.


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