Called Hayabusa (meaning Peregrine Falcon), the unmanned Japanese spacecraft was launched on 9 May 2003. Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), its goal was to return a sample from a small asteroid called 25143 Itokawa near Earth. It only took two years for Hayabusa to reach Itokawa.
When it arrived in mid September 2005, it studied the asteroid’s shape, spin, topography, color, composition, density, and history. It was two months before it actually landed on the asteroid and gathered samples, though. It took five years for it to return to Earth, though. It didn’t reenter until 13 June 2010.
Hayabusa wasn’t the first successful visit to an asteroid, but it was the first to return to Earth with samples. Galileo and NEAR Shoemaker (both by NASA) had visited asteroids before. Hayabusa was also the first spacecraft designed to land on an asteroid and take off again. Though it was intended to only be a brief landing, Hayabusa sat on the surface of the asteroid for 30 minutes.