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Hayabusa2 landed on asteroid on birthday of project member who died of cancer

This photo provided by Yuichi Iijima's family shows the researcher on a family vacation after undergoing surgery in 2007.

TOKYO -- Japan's space probe Hayabusa2 successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu on Feb. 22, the birthday of a researcher who contributed to the development of the explorer but passed away due to cancer.

Yuichi Iijima was an Institute of Space and Astronautical Science assistant professor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency who died in 2012 aged 44. "We couldn't have achieved the current system that supports scientific studies for Hayabusa2 if it wasn't for Iijima," said one of the project members. They added, "I want to inform him about the successful landing."

Iijima was also one of the developers of the Japanese lunar orbiter Selene that was launched in 2007. He pulled off a difficult task of equipping the satellite with many monitoring devices so they didn't interfere with each other.

However, the assistant professor was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. When the development of Hayabusa2 began, he took action to "improve its scientific mission" while fighting cancer.

Hayabusa2's main mission is to launch metal objects into the surface of Ryugu using explosives to create a crater. A small-scale camera separated from its main unit will capture the moment the crater is made, while Hayabusa2 hides behind the asteroid to avoid being hit by fragments that are blown off in the explosion. Iijima appealed for the use of "a high resolution camera to obtain better data." With the belief that "an easy compromise shouldn't be made," he became absorbed in the development of a camera that would be useful for such scientific research.

Furthermore, Iijima went around convincing major researchers to join the project even though it had become difficult for him to step out of his house due to severe pain throughout his entire body. One of the researchers is Nagoya University professor Seiichiro Watanabe, who now leads Hayabusa2's science team. "Please think about it (the project) together," Iijima said in the many emails he sent to Watanabe. After Watanabe decided to join the project in 2012, Iijima passed away soon after before Hayabusa2 was launched.

After the probe landed on Ryugu, project manager Yuichi Tsuda stated, "The science team contributed greatly (to the project)." According to Tsuda, they were encouraged to land Hayabusa2 in such a narrow space due to the accuracy of the information collected by the science team that consisted of researchers representing Japan.

The camera developed by researchers including Iijima will soon be used.

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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