After spending more than seven years in space and traveling nearly 4 billion miles, a capsule containing precious asteroid samples will return to Earth on Sunday.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security–Regolith Explorer – launched in 2016 to carry out the agency’s first mission to collect material from an asteroid in space. A capsule containing nearly 9 ounces of rocks, dust and dirt collected from an asteroid called Bennu will detach from OSIRIS-REx before its expected crash inside the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, where teams from NASA and Lockheed Martin, who built the vehicle. they will await his arrival.
“It’s like putting a dart board at one end of a basketball court and throwing the dart at the other end and getting a bull’s eye,” said OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager Michael Moreau. he recently told FOX Weather. “That’s what we’re doing”.
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The multi-year mission will help scientists investigate how planets form, provide insights into how life began and improve NASA’s understanding of asteroids that could come into contact with Earth. The sample “will give generations of scientists a window into the time when the Sun and planets were forming about 4.5 billion years ago.” according to NASA.
The mission will also provide information that could help protect Earth from a possible collision with Bennu. The Empire State Building-sized asteroid has a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth near the end of 2100, according to NASA.
The anticipated drop of the NASA capsule has been a long time coming.
OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in 2018 and spent two years flying near and around the asteroid collecting data. After two more years of surveying the rock formation, the spacecraft made its historic landing on the asteroid’s surface in 2020.
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After spending less than a minute on the surface of Bennu while collecting a “touch and go” sample, the spacecraft returned to orbit Bennu once more. Despite a jammed door that resulted in the loss of some of the space dust shortly after collection, the sample is still record-breaking and above the two-ounce mission requirement.
Once the capsule carrying the sample touches down in the desert, a NASA team will bring the material into a clean room. The Bennu material will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Most of the asteroid’s material – 70% – will be preserved for future research. NASA scientists and more than 200 others around the world will study the remaining portions.
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Part of the sample will be given to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in exchange for samples collected by Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft, according to NASA.
OSIRIS-REx will continue to study another asteroid, Apophis, named after a demon serpent in ancient Egyptian mythology that represented evil and chaos.