- NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission successfully returned a capsule containing rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu, marking the first American asteroid sample return in history.
- The sample capsule, carrying approximately 8.8 ounces (250 grams) of material from Bennu, landed in a targeted area near Salt Lake City, Utah, after traveling billions of miles.
- Scientists placed the sample under a continuous flow of nitrogen, ensuring its purity for future scientific analyses.
- The returned samples will aid in understanding planet formation, the origin of organics and water that led to life on Earth, and the study of potentially hazardous asteroids.
- The mission involved years of meticulous planning, remote spacecraft guidance, and a collaborative effort of hundreds of individuals.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has achieved a significant milestone by successfully returning a capsule filled with rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu. The capsule landed at a targeted area near Salt Lake City, Utah, at 8:52 a.m. MDT on Sunday. This achievement marks the first American asteroid sample return in history and represents the culmination of years of hard work and anticipation by the OSIRIS-REx team.
One of the critical tasks upon landing was placing the sample under a “nitrogen purge” to maintain its purity for scientific analysis. Nitrogen, being a gas that does not react with most other chemicals, helps keep earthly contaminants out of the sample container inside the capsule.
The samples collected from Bennu hold immense scientific value. They will contribute to a better understanding of planet formation, the origin of organic materials and water crucial for life on Earth, and the study of potentially hazardous asteroids.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised the mission’s success, highlighting the importance of studying potentially hazardous asteroids. He also noted that this achievement, along with upcoming missions like Psyche, DART, and Lucy, showcases NASA’s ability to undertake ambitious projects that inspire and unite people.
The Bennu sample, estimated at 8.8 ounces (250 grams), will be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where curation scientists will disassemble the canister, weigh the sample, and distribute pieces to scientists worldwide for analysis.
The success of today’s delivery was the result of a massive effort involving hundreds of people who directed the spacecraft’s journey from its launch in 2016 to its arrival at Bennu in 2018, sample collection in 2020, and return trip in 2021.
Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, emphasized that while this achievement feels like the end of one chapter, it is just the beginning of another, offering an unprecedented opportunity to delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released its sample capsule towards Earth’s atmosphere, traveling billions of miles before successfully landing off the coast of California. Radar, infrared, and optical instruments tracked the capsule’s descent and landing within a specified area.
The safe return of the sample capsule is a testament to the meticulous planning and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team, who celebrated this historic achievement as a “World Series” moment in space exploration.
NASA Goddard provided mission management, systems engineering, and safety assurance, while the University of Arizona led the science team. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft, and Goddard and KinetX Aerospace were responsible for navigation. Curation of the OSIRIS-REx sample will occur at NASA Johnson. The mission also featured international partnerships, including collaboration with JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission, marking the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program.