NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft succeeded in bringing samples of the asteroid Bennu to Earth after traveling 6.2 billion km. Photo/NASA
UTAH – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft succeeded in bringing samples of the asteroid Bennu to Earth after traveling 6.2 billion km. The OSIRIS-REx module landed at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in the arid Utah desert, Sunday 24 September 2023 morning local time.
The mission marks the first time NASA has successfully retrieved an asteroid sample and brought it back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx probe traveled more than 6.2 billion kilometers to reach Bennu and then made the return journey.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released a capsule containing samples of the asteroid Bennu while at an altitude of 101,000 km above Earth. The capsule contains about 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of rock and other materials from the asteroid Bennu.
The samples are expected to help answer some of scientists’ most compelling questions about the origins of life on Earth and the early days of the solar system. “For the first time in history, we are bringing home items from an object like this,” said Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, quoted by SINDOnews from the Space page.
The OSIRIS-REx capsule reached speeds of up to 43,450 km/h and its heat shield had a temperature of 2,900 degrees Celsius as it descended through the Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule deploys its main parachute at an altitude of about 20,000 feet or 6,000 meters.
When the sample capsule drifted back to the desert floor at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Site, conditions were cold. Then US Air Force personnel were able to approach after finding it.
The descent from the edge of the atmosphere to the desert sands took a total of less than 10 minutes to complete a journey of 6 billion km. The $1 billion OSIRIS-REx mission launched in 2016, arrived at Bennu in 2018 and collected asteroid samples in 2020.
“Congratulations to the entire OSIRIS-REx team. You did it! “This mission proves that NASA is doing great things,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video during the live broadcast.
From there, the capsule was connected to a helicopter via a long line and flown to a temporary clean room set up at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. Once safely inside the facility, the capsule is opened, and the tube inside containing valuable samples of the asteroid Bennu will be prepared for transport once again.
The asteroid material will then be loaded into the aircraft and flown to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. This is a newly built facility by the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) division.