Dr. Scott Sandford has recently returned from back-to-back trips to Australia and Japan where he had participated in the reentry, recovery, and opening of the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) of the Japanese Hayabusa (“Falcon”) Asteroid Sample Return Mission. He was present at the Woomera Protected Area in Australia when the capsule reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on June 14, 2010. Dr. Sandford played multiple roles in the recovery of the Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission SRC in 2006, and his primary duties for the Hayabusa reentry were associated with being available to use his expertise to help with the recovery of the capsule in situations in which the capsule reentry was ‘off-nominal’. Fortunately, the Hayabusa SRC reentry went perfectly and Dr. Sandford’s preparations were not needed (which was perfectly fine with him!). He had little to do other than watch the spectacular fireball that was visible when the Hayabusa spacecraft and SRC entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
After seeing the capsule packaged for shipment to Japan, and making a quick trip back to the US, Dr. Sandford traveled to JAXA Headquarters in Sagimahara, Japan where he participated in the opening of the Hayabusa sample canister in a specially prepared cleanroom curational facility. He was the only non-Japanese team member present when the canister seal was opened. He is now serving as a member of the Hayabusa Sample Preliminary Examination Team (HASPET) that is preparing to study the materials found in the canister. The HASPET will carry out its analyses at multiple facilities in Japan over the next year before the samples are made available for wider study. The HASPET consists largely of Japanese sample scientists, although it also includes two US sample scientists (Scott Sandford, NASA-ARC, and Michael Zolensky, NASA-JSC), and an Australian sample scientist (Trevor Ireland, University of Canberra).