By a twist of fate, dozens of school parties entered the museum at the same time. As we toured the ground floor, hordes of primary school children, grouped into pairs holding hands, swarmed around our knees. All were Chinese, as were what appeared to be the classroom assistants, who blatantly elbowed us out of the way as they ushered their pupils around the various displays and exhibits. For each flock of uniforms, there was an English teacher, who led them around and spoke to the group in English. What a start these kids are getting learning a foreign language at such a young age.
We visited an iMax cinema inside the museum to watch an excellent documentary on the Hayabusa Project.
Discovered by the US "Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research" (LINEAR), the asteroid 25143 was officially named "Itokawa" in August 2003 in memory of the famous Japanese rocket scientist Professor Hideo Itokawa, who is popularly known as the Father of Japanese Space Development.
Launched by an M-V vehicle, the unmanned probe "Hayabusa" (which means "falcon" in Japanese) was sent to explore the asteroid "Itokawa" by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in May 2003. Its mission was to land on the asteroid 200 million kilometres away from us, collect rock samples and bring them back to Earth. Scientists believed that these fragments might contain clues that could shed light on the formation of our Solar System.
It Is a Long Way Down
Space missions are never easy. After a space journey lasting more than two years, Hayabusa finally arrived at Itokawa in September 2005. In November, during Hayabusa's first landing attempt, a serious accident caused extensive damage to its body. Yet the mission held up. Hayabusa's second attempt was successful and rock samples were collected smoothly. Unfortunately, during the probe's return, two of the three gyroscopes were out of order and more than one-third of the lithium-ion batteries failed. Even worse, a subsequent leaking of gas compromised the accurate aiming of the solar panels toward the sun, leading to a temporary communication blackout with the control centre on Earth.
In January 2006, Hayabusa resumed communication with the Earth and JAXA immediately activated the probe's re-entry sequence. On 13th June 2010, three years later than expected, the re-entry module landed in the Woomera Prohibited Area in Australia. The mission was regarded a huge success.
Hayabusa's success has encouraged JAXA to launch "Hayabusa-2", with the view to landing on another near-Earth asteroid designated "1999 JU3" to collect and send back rock samples. 1993 JU3 is a C-type asteroid, the type believed by many scientists to be rich in organic matter and the minerals in their rocks may even contain water. Hayabusa-2 is expected to lift off between 2014 and 2015, arrive at the asteroid in 2018 and return to earth in 2020.
After the film, we took in the rest of the museum before emerging into the bright sunlight, to visit our final port of call, the International Commerce Centre. This very tall building, over 100 floors, is at 490m, the fourth tallest building in the world. The Sun Hung Kai Properties' International Commerce Centre and International Finance Centre stand on opposite shores forming a magnificent gateway to Victoria Harbour. These gleaming icons have redefined the city and symbolise the group's commitment to building a better Hong Kong.
Roof Top Restaurant
It conveniently had a viewing area near the top, affording stunning views across the harbour to the island, but also across Kowloon and up into the New Territories. By now the blue skies had been replaced by sinking grey clouds, and a murky mist was starting to pervade the scene.
We watched a large cruise ship depart far below us, and then, the whole vista was gradually transformed as the buildings and ships switched on their lights as day turned into night. It was magical seeing this new world of myriads of lights emerging from the gloom below.
A bloke from Chicago approached me with his Filipino girlfriend, and asked me to take their photo. "No problem, just stand by the window there," I said, pointing to a large pane with an excellent backdrop. However, he chose to stand right in front of a vertical stanchion. "Sorry, but it looks as though you've got something growing out of your head," I suggested, thinking he'd realise what I meant. I thought incorrectly. He immediately put his head down and started scratching it furiously. I had to explain what I meant with a little humour, which was lost on him. But I did my duty, and got the two of them captured in various poses. The Filipino girl was the more sensible of the two, and was happy to talk, but the guy just wanted to move on to the next thing on his tick list.
We headed out into the darkness, and within a short distance night was turned into day by thousands of bright neon lights. Our last meal together was on the roof of a building at 1 Peking Street. We enjoyed an excellent meal with a delightful New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to accompany it. During our meal, the evening light show was playing out across the harbour, enhancing our evening.
A couple of cocktails nicely wound up the evening, and we returned to our hotel where I was soon in bed; tomorrow was going to be a very early start.