NASA capsule brings sample from asteroid to Earth for the first time in American history: ‘We have touchdown!’
In a historic achievement, NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft has successfully completed its mission to collect a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring it back to our planet. This marks the first time in American history that a spacecraft has landed on an asteroid, collected samples, and safely returned to Earth.
The dramatic touchdown took place in the remote Utah desert on October 20th, 2023. The NASA capsule, containing the precious sample, descended through Earth’s atmosphere beneath a parachute before gently landing at the designated site. Cheers and tears of joy filled the air as the mission control team confirmed the successful completion of the years-long endeavor.
The Osiris-Rex mission, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, was launched by NASA in 2016 with the primary goal of investigating and understanding asteroids, particularly Bennu. This ancient near-Earth asteroid, roughly the size of the Empire State Building, is believed to hold invaluable information about the early Solar System and the origins of life.
The spacecraft had been orbiting Bennu for almost two years, surveying its surface and gathering data for the collection process. Scientists meticulously selected a sample site and maneuvered the spacecraft to lower its robotic arm to the asteroid’s surface. The arm used a nitrogen gas blast to stir up dust and pebbles, and then a sampler head, equipped with a set of blades, collected the regolith, or surface material.
The team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland closely monitored the process, as Osiris-Rex made contact with Bennu for just a few seconds to collect the sample. Although originally designed to collect at least 60 grams of regolith, it is believed that Osiris-Rex exceeded expectations and collected an estimated 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of material.
“It is a historic achievement, and the result of years of hard work and dedication from the entire team involved,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The sample will provide us with unprecedented insights into the formation of our solar system and our own planet’s history.”
The sample collected will be carefully preserved and analyzed in state-of-the-art laboratories on Earth. Scientists hope that it will shed light on the organic compounds present on the primitive asteroid and offer clues about the role asteroids may have played in delivering water and the building blocks for life to Earth.
NASA plans to share a portion of the sample with international partners, including the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which successfully collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu last year. By collaborating with other space agencies, scientists aim to gather a comprehensive understanding of asteroids and their significance in our solar system.
The success of the Osiris-Rex mission opens up new possibilities and paves the way for future missions that will further explore asteroids, potentially even searching for viable resources such as metals, minerals, or water that could support future interplanetary missions or sustain life in space.
While the return of the sample from asteroid Bennu is an extraordinary achievement in itself, it also represents a triumph for American space exploration and scientific research. NASA’s long-standing commitment to pushing boundaries, advancing knowledge, and unraveling the mysteries of our universe has once again proven its immense value.
As scientists eagerly await the analysis of the samples, the entire world looks forward to the groundbreaking discoveries that the asteroid Bennu has in store. We can only imagine the profound impact these findings will have on our understanding of the cosmos and potentially the future of space exploration.
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