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Capsule Containing Bits Of An Asteroid Returns To Earth

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. For the first time ever, a space explorer launched from Earth, it touched down twice on a distant asteroid, came back to Earth's orbit and dropped off samples from the asteroid.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. This is all part of a six-year-long mission from Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) OK. It coming from right side, and it's getting brighter and brighter. And the speed is very, very big.

GREENE: That's the English interpretation of a Japan space agency broadcast over the weekend. A white dot fireball was spotted streaking through the Earth's atmosphere.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: That's the technicians celebrating when the craft dropped off a tiny capsule full of asteroid samples. They landed safely in the Australian Outback. And now scientists are going to study them, looking for clues about the formation of our solar system.

GREENE: And this spacecraft is not retiring quite yet. It is embarking on an 11-year mission - you guessed it - to another asteroid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALIGN'S "EMBRACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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