07 October 2005

Technical Difficulties

A small bit of bad news in space exploration: the Hayabusa probe just lost its second reaction wheel. Basically, the craft had three gyroscopes rotating in perpendicular directions to keep it stable around each axis of rotation, and now it's down to one. Fortunately, it's almost done mapping it's target asteroid, but it might not be able to return samples back to Earth as planned. Failure would be a shame, but I think this actually points out some of the advantages of unmanned space exploration. After all, the worst that could happen is we don't get the samples and lose an expensive spacecraft; if it were a manned mission (and fat chance pulling that off on an asteroid anytime soon) critical system failures could very easily be fatal.

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