The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) succeeded in putting its Akatsuki spacecraft onto orbit around Venus early this month. The spacecraft will start full-scale observations in April — the nation's first planetary exploration. The Nozomi spacecraft launched in 1998 for the exploration of Mars failed to enter orbit around the red planet. While there are some concerns over the Akatsuki probe since it has already exceeded its design life of 4 1/2 years and will be unable to get as close to Venus as originally planned, we hope Akatsuki's mission to observe the mysterious planet will bring fruitful results.

Akatsuki, which means dawn in Japanese, was launched in May 2010. But in December that year, JAXA failed to place the probe onto orbit around Venus after its main engine broke down. Instead of entering Venus's orbit, it sailed toward the sun. This time, JAXA fired four of Akatsuki's thrusters and it was eventually captured by Vensus's gravity. The success of the second attempt itself is a great achievement in itself.

If the Akatsuki mission successfully carries out its observations of Venus, it will mark an accomplishment comparable with that of the Hayabusa probe, which was launched in 2003, landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and returned to Earth in 2010 with a sample of material from the small celestial body, completing a journey of some 6 billion km and overcoming a series of troubles. Hayabusa 2, a successor probe to Hayabusa that is now traveling in space, is scheduled to return to Earth in late 2020 with material taken from the asteroid Ryugu.