NASA Gets Asteroid Sample Delivered Back To Earth In Capsule With Half A Pound Of Material From Asteroid

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In a momentous development for space exploration, NASA has successfully obtained a capsule containing approximately half a pound of material extracted from a substantial asteroid known as Bennu.

This achievement marks the first extraterrestrial soil sample brought back to earth by Americans since the Apollo Missions. The significant feat was carried out as part of the OSIRIS-REx Mission, a multi-year endeavor and NASA’s pioneering asteroid sample-and-return mission.

This magnificent journey of the OSIRIS-Rex mission culminated with the capsule’s landing at a DoD Test Range in Utah at 10:52 a.m. EDT on a Sunday. This moment was the culmination of seven years of dedicated effort, commencing with the launch of a small spacecraft in 2016.

Over the years, the spacecraft was remotely directed to the asteroid Bennu, where it arrived and meticulously searched for a safe landing area in 2019. The spacecraft ultimately collected a sample in October 2020 and then embarked on its journey back to earth in 2021.

The Bennu sample, estimated to weight around 8.8 ounces or 250 grams, was transported in its sealed canister by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on a Monday. At the Space Center, a team of curation scientists will embark on a meticulous process. Their tasks include disassembling the canister, extracting and weighing the sample, creating an inventory of the rocks and dust, and, over time, distributing pieces of Bennu to scientists around the world.

One of the most crucial tasks the OSIRIS-Rex team faced upon the capsule’s return was to quickly place it under a “nitrogen purge.”

Nitrogen, being an inert gas that does not readily react with other chemicals, plays a vital role in maintaining the sample’s purity. Continuous infusion of nitrogen into the sample container within the capsule ensures that it remains free from earthly contaminants, preserving its pristine condition for scientific analyses.

Rich Burns, project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said, “For us, this was the World Series, ninth inning, bases-loaded moment, and this team knocked it out of the park. The whole team had butterflies today, but that’s the focused anticipation of a critical event by a well-prepared team.”

The returned samples collected from Bennu hold immense scientific value. Researchers worldwide are poised to make groundbreaking discoveries that will enhance our understanding of planet formation, the origins of organics, and the presence of water, which are essential factors in the emergence of life on earth.

Moreover, this endeavor promises to benefit all of humanity by providing crucial insights into potentially hazardous asteroids.

This achievement demonstrates NASA’s unwavering commitment to space exploration and the pursuit of knowledge beyond earth’s boundaries. It stands as a testament to the incredible progress that can be achieved through long-term dedication, meticulous planning, and the collaborative efforts of scientists and space explorers. NASA’s success in acquiring the Bennu sample brings humanity one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of our universe and advancing our understanding of celestial bodies that may impact life on our home planet.

See more about this amazing feat in the video below:


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