NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has achieved a significant milestone in space exploration by successfully delivering a capsule containing rocks and dust samples from asteroid Bennu back to Earth. The capsule touched down precisely in a designated area within the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City on Sunday. This remarkable mission marks the first-ever American asteroid sample return in history.
The retrieval of these samples is a crucial step towards deepening our understanding of the origins of our solar system and its formation. Bennu, the asteroid from which these samples were collected, is classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid. The insights gained from the analysis of these samples will provide valuable information about similar asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.
On the next phase of the mission, the OSIRIS-REx team will transport the Bennu sample using an unopened canister via aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas. At the center, scientists will meticulously examine and weigh the sample, create an inventory of the rocks and dust, and distribute portions of Bennu to scientists worldwide.
The journey of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft involved traversing billions of miles to reach Bennu and return. The sample capsule was released toward Earth’s atmosphere while positioned approximately 102,000 kilometers away. It entered Earth’s atmosphere off the coast of California, deploying two parachutes to stabilize and reduce its speed. The capsule gently touched down at a speed of 11 mph.
To ensure the purity of the sample, the capsule was immediately transported to a temporary clean room established within a hangar at the training range. It is continuously supplied with nitrogen to prevent contamination from terrestrial substances. This meticulous attention to maintaining the sample’s purity is crucial for scientific analysis.
The samples collected from Bennu will be invaluable resources for scientists worldwide. They will enable breakthrough discoveries related to planet formation, organic compounds’ origins, the presence of water, and their significance in the emergence of life on Earth. Moreover, this mission will contribute to our knowledge of potentially hazardous asteroids, ultimately ensuring the safety and well-being of humanity.