It was heartening to observe the overwhelming response to the news of Hayabusa reentry yesterday.
Hayabusa, an unmanned space mission to return a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa, made a successful reentry into the Earth's atmosphere last night. It is not known at present whether the capsule, which apparently landed on an Australian soil, contains a sample of the Asteroid. If successful, the material taken back to the earth would reveal important information about the origin of the solar system.
As I monitored the tweets of my friends here in Japan on twitter, some of them scientists, others writers and artists, there was definitely something qualitatively different from the reactions to other science and technology news. I suspect that the very idea of the Hayabusa devise ending its life of service to science in a display of glowing visual apparition stroke a chord in many hearts.
Traditionally, Japanese culture appreciated very highly the transience and fragility of life. Hojoki ("An account of my Hut"), an essay written by Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216) famously begins thus:
Though the river's current never fails, the water passing, moment by moment, is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.
(Translation by Robert N. Lawson given on The Washburn College webpage
I suspect that for many of my compatriots, the burning of Hayabusa in the earth's atmosphere was beautiful and moving, because it reminded us of our own immortality, and the very enigma of the passing of time.
Last night, in the public's reception of the news of the Hayabusa reentry, poetry and modern technology met in a deep and unexpected resonance.
The hayabusa reentry. From the Orbiter-Forum.com webpage.