NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Successfully Returns with Pristine Asteroid Sample

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Successfully Returns with Pristine Asteroid Sample
Img Cr. CNN

In a groundbreaking achievement, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has delivered a pristine sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, providing scientists with a valuable glimpse into the origins of our solar system. This historic event marks the first time that NASA has successfully collected and returned an asteroid sample.

After embarking on its mission seven years ago, OSIRIS-REx made its triumphant return to Earth on Sunday, soaring past our planet to drop off the precious cargo. The spacecraft, whose name stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, initiated its rendezvous with Bennu in 2018 and collected the sample in 2020 before commencing its journey back to Earth in May 2021.

On Sunday, the spacecraft released the sample capsule, containing an estimated 8.8 ounces of asteroid rocks and soil, from a distance of 63,000 miles above Earth’s surface. It then descended into Earth’s atmosphere at a breathtaking speed of about 27,650 miles per hour. Thanks to a well-executed parachute deployment, the capsule gently touched down at 11 miles per hour in the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range, a mere 10 minutes after entering the atmosphere.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Successfully Returns with Pristine Asteroid Sample
©Provided by CNNT he sample from the asteroid Bennu entered Earth’s atmosphere around 10:42 a.m. ET on Sunday. – NASA

NASA has provided a livestream of the delivery and recovery efforts, allowing the world to witness this historic moment. Four helicopters transported recovery and research teams to the landing site to assess the capsule’s condition. Fortunately, the capsule emerged unscathed, much to the relief of the teams who had been diligently preparing for this event.

The recovery process involves meticulous precautions to ensure that the pristine sample remains uncontaminated. The capsule, which experienced temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry, underwent careful examination to ensure its integrity. A science team collected additional samples from the landing site, including air, dust, and dirt particles, to document any potential interactions with the sample.

To maintain the sample’s purity, it will be transported in a cargo net via helicopter to a temporary clean room near the landing site. Within this controlled environment, a nitrogen flow will be initiated to prevent Earth’s atmosphere from contaminating the sample canister. The larger components of the capsule will be removed, allowing scientists to catch their first glimpse of the sample.

Details about the sample’s composition and potential revelations will be unveiled in a NASA broadcast from Johnson Space Center on October 11. While a comprehensive analysis will take years to complete, scientists plan to conduct a preliminary analysis of fine-grained material from the top of the canister on Tuesday.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Successfully Returns with Pristine Asteroid Sample
©Provided by CNN The sample capsule and its main parachute can be seen after landing in the Utah desert. – NASA

The rocks and soil from Bennu hold the promise of shedding light on the early stages of our solar system’s formation. These carbonaceous asteroids, like Bennu, may have played a significant role in delivering essential elements such as water to Earth during its infancy.

Beyond unraveling the mysteries of our solar system’s origins, this sample can also provide crucial insights into Bennu’s future. With the potential to collide with Earth someday, understanding Bennu’s composition and orbit is essential for predicting and deflecting any future threats.

Despite any potential disruptions, including a government shutdown, NASA remains committed to safeguarding and studying this invaluable sample, which has waited for over 4 billion years for humans to explore. This achievement stands as a testament to the relentless pursuit of knowledge about our universe and its origins.

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