Hideo Itokawa and Hayabusa

Hayabusa is the name of the first spacecraft that was able to bring a sample of material from an asteroid to our planet. Itokawa is the name of the asteroid in which the Japanese spacecraft took the samples three years ago before coming back to Earth.

“Hayabusa” (隼) means “falcon” in Japanese language and was also the name of the jet fighter that was feared the most by the allies during Second World War. This plane was designed by Hideo Itokawa, who is considered a pioneer of Japanese aerospace research.

Itokawa designed the first Japanese rockets that were able to launch into space, designed the first three Japanese satellites and several planes. He is considered a genius: he wrote dozens of books, some of them national best-sellers and at the same time he had time for other hobbies like basketball, golf, piano, violin or even European philosophy.

Just after finishing his studies at the Tokyo Imperial University, Itokawa designed the plane Nakajima Ki-43 that would be mass produced by the Japanese air force during the war; it was considered the most agile and maneuverable jet fighter of its time. The plane gained popularity and was known as Hayabusa (“Falcon”) by both, the Japanese and the allies.

Hayabusa and Hideo Itokawa
Nakajima Ki-43 plane, also known as Hayabusa, designed by Hideo Itokawa.

Hayabusa and Hideo Itokawa
Hayabusa‘s encounter with Itokawa

At the end of the war, the speed and maneuverability of the Hayabusa fighters designed by Itokawa made them ideal to be used as kamikaze.

Most of Itokawa’s Hayabusa were destroyed in kamikaze operations. Sixty years later, the Hayabusa spacecraft met with the asteroid Itokawa 254,316,600 Km from us. After several technical problems, the Hayabusa spacecraft was able to come back to our planet, disintegrating almost completely while entering the atmosphere (except a small capsule in the interior with the Itokawa asteroid samples) as if it were a Hayabusa kamikaze fighter.

This is the last picture that Hayabusa took, after its encounter with Itokawa, before disintegrating into our atmosphere.

Hayabusa last picture

For every Hayabusa kamikaze mission at the end of the war in the summer of 1945, many tears were shed from Japanese eyes. Last summer, when Hayabusa disintegrated while coming back to Earth also many tears were shed, but this time it was quite different.

3 Comments
  • InspectorGadget

    January 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    The Hayabusa was not a jet powered aircraft as you have stated but a conventionally powered plane with a Radial engine. It was indeed a formidable opponent to the allied aircraft in the Pacific war, but it also had it’s flaws.

    Only after the war did Hideo Itokawa become heavily involved in rocketry earning his place in history as one of the fathers of the Japanese space programme.

  • Karla

    January 31, 2011 at 2:08 pm

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  • RMilner

    February 2, 2011 at 11:48 am

    There is a great Hayabusa asteroid miner presentation at the new planetarium in Shibuya.

    At least there was earlier in January, it may have changed now.