Following an asteroid landing in 2005 and a lengthy delay in guiding the craft home, the seven year mission of Hayabusa culminated in this fiery reentry shot from an airborne observatory and posted to YouTube. Shortly before being vaporized by the intense from the shallow reentry the spacecraft deposited cargo - clearly seen on the video - that scientists hope will shed more light on origins of our solar system.
There's another aspect to Hayabusa that is perhaps even grander. The image of this cleverly fabricated robot burning up across the night sky evokes some powerful emotions. Here is one of our pioneer voyagers of the deeper universe that lies all about us. A persistent machine, nurtured and nursed through a variety of problems by its smart operators. Seven years on it returns, carrying - we hope - a precious sample that will expand our view of nature. Seven years is a long time these days, Hayabusa has come back to a different world. This is a glimpse of our future in the solar system. The meteor-like streaks of returning probes, and eventually astronauts, lighting our skies. New mariners, returning to harbor, bringing exotica that change everything, just as they find a world changed by time.