Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hayabusa Flies Again

     Hayabusa, the unmanned Japanese asteroid mission that improbably made it back to Earth after a series of mishaps, is flying again—and again, and then again. Three dramatizations of the Hayabusa saga will hit movie theaters in Japan over the next several months. The first, titled simply Hayabusa, opens 1 October in Japan and will be released in the United States next spring.
       Scientists have confirmed that Hayabusa successfully brought back asteroid samples, but what captured popular attention were the never-say-die efforts the ground crew made to overcome engine failures, loss of fuel, and communications troubles during Hayabusa’s 6-billion-kilometer, 7-year trip. These heroic efforts contributed to filmmakers’ “very unusual” level of interest in the mission, says Hayabusa producer Kiyoshi Inoue.
       Five of the mission’s scientists  are portrayed in Hayabusa , including Project Manager Jun’ichiro Kawaguchi of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The film’s star, however, is a fictional researcher handling public outreach while laboring on her own
scientific paper—played by actress Yuko Takeuchi. Inoue says the Takeuchi character represents young scientists in Japan “struggling to [make] their dreams come true.” The spate of movies “simply says facts are more thrilling than novels,” says Kawaguchi, who is taking in stride his big-screen portrayals by some of Japan’s leading actors, including Ken Watanabe. Watanabe stars in another Hayabusa movie premiering in February. The third movie, filmed in 3D, premieres in March.



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