History in the now: First asteroid sample through NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission

Eloise Marshall
October 22, 2020

A NASA spacecraft on Tuesday conducted the US space agency's first sample collection from an asteroid as part of seven-year-long voyage.

It was America's first attempt to gather samples from an asteroid, something already accomplished by Japan - twice. But it could be a week before scientists know how much, if much of anything, was grabbed and whether another try will be needed.

"After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today's sampling attempt", Dante Lauretta, the mission's principal investigator and a professor at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, said in a statement, CNN reported.

OSIRIS-REx - which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer - launched on September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA has been making waves this year with so many discoveries, launches, and advancements in science that it's hard to keep up.

America's Osiris-Rex spacecraft has completed its audacious tag-and-go manoeuvre created to grab surface rock from an asteroid.

OSIRIS-Rex crosses the site Nightingale during the final dress rehearsal in August.

© NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).

Since arriving in Benue, the spacecraft and its cameras have been assembled and sent back to help the team learn more about the ship's structure and map out the best possible landing sites for sample collection. The spacecraft fired its thrusters to navigate safely away from the asteroid.

Osiris-Rex is scheduled to come back home to us in 2023, with a payload of space rocks weighing at least 60 grams - tiny by mass, but massive by weight. Given that NASA was trying to set a spacecraft the size of a minivan down in an area the size of a few parking spaces - that just so happened to be surrounded by house-sized boulders - keeping all of OSIRIS' bits and pieces out of the way was of paramount importance.

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A NASA spacecraft landed on an asteroid, avoiding rocks the size of buildings, in order to collect a handful of cosmic debris for analysis back on Earth.

"It's just scientifically really exciting". The spacecraft threw a pressurized nitrogen bottle into the storm, which used the gas to lift matter from Bennu's surface.

Asteroid mosaic image of Bennu taken by the Osiris-Rex spacecraft at a distance of 15 miles (24 km).

Because Bennu is believed to have formed in the first 10 million years of our solar system's existence - over 4.5 billion years ago - scientists hope that collected samples could unlock the mysteries about how it came to be, and even tell us more about the origins of life.

But if all goes well, the spacecraft and its precious specimen will embark on a long journey to return to Earth next year and the specimen will land on Earth in 2023.

Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to launch three more asteroid missions, all one-way missions, over the next two years.

"That will be another big day for us".

"The asteroids are like time capsules, floating in space, that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system", Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division, said during a Monday news conference, the New York Times reported.

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