In a major milestone for NASA, a capsule carrying the largest asteroid samples ever collected successfully landed in the desert in Utah, marking the end of a seven-year space voyage. Scientists are optimistic about the potential of these samples, as they believe it will provide valuable insights into the formation of our solar system and the conditions that made Earth habitable.
The landing was captured on NASA’s live video webcast, with engineers and team members celebrating the successful touchdown of the Osiris-Rex sample return capsule. This mission is the first of its kind for the United States, and NASA Chief Bill Nelson expressed excitement about the asteroid dust, stating that it will offer an extraordinary glimpse into the beginnings of our solar system.
The Osiris-Rex probe’s descent through Earth’s atmosphere was a perilous journey, but NASA managed to engineer a soft landing at the Utah Test and Training Range. After four years since its launch in 2016, the probe landed on the asteroid Bennu and collected approximately nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface. Even this small amount of sample is expected to enhance our understanding of asteroids that could potentially pose a threat to Earth.
According to NASA scientist Amy Simon, this sample return is historic and comparable to the Apollo moon rocks brought back to Earth. The capsule was released from an altitude of over 67,000 miles and experienced a fiery passage through the atmosphere, reaching speeds of over 27,000 miles per hour and temperatures of up to 5,000 Fahrenheit. The main parachute deployed higher than anticipated, but the capsule remained intact without any breach.
The capsule was carefully transported to a nearby clean room for further analysis, while the probe shifted course towards another asteroid called Apophis. Scientists predict that Apophis will come within 20,000 miles of Earth in 2029.
The collected sample will be sent to Johnson Space Center in Houston for additional study, with NASA planning to announce the first results on October 11. Most of the sample will be preserved for future generations, while a portion will be used for immediate experiments and shared with mission partners in Japan and Canada.
Asteroids are composed of original materials from the solar system and can provide valuable insights into its formation and evolution. Scientists believe that asteroids and comets delivered organic material and potentially water to Earth, contributing to the development of life. Bennu, with a diameter of about 500 meters, is believed to be rich in carbon and contains water molecules locked in minerals. Understanding its composition is crucial for future endeavors, especially considering the slight chance of a catastrophic collision with Earth in 2182.
Overall, this successful mission marks a significant achievement for NASA and opens up new possibilities for studying the origins of our solar system and the potential threats posed by asteroids.