TOKYO, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- A Japanese probe missed contact with an asteroid by just over 50 feet, not much in space but enough to delay its mission of collecting a sample.
The Hayabusa probe aborted a descent early Sunday, the BBC reported. Scientists are trying to determine if there was a technical glitch or if an automatic failsafe system was working too well.
The probe was launched in 2003 and is scheduled to return to earth in 2007. Researchers hope to get it on an asteroid's surface for one second, allowing it to shoot a pellet into the rock and collect a sample of the dust kicked up by the collision.
If it achieves its mission in another try and brings the dust back to earth, it would be the first material gathered directly from an asteroid.
Hayabusa -- Japanese for falcon -- is also supposed to leave behind a metal plate bearing the names of 880,000 earthlings, including director Steven Spielberg and science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.
The probe is scheduled to begin its earthward journey in December.