NASA Prepares for Landmark Delivery of Asteroid Samples
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission is making history, as it cruises back to Earth with a sample collected from the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will become the first US mission to bring an asteroid sample back to Earth when its sample capsule parachutes down into the Utah desert on September 24. However, the mission will have to face its biggest challenge yet, to deliver the asteroid sample to Earth while protecting it from heat, vibrations, and earthly contaminants. The spacecraft had spent seven years in space, including a tough touchdown on Bennu to collect dust and rocks. The OSIRIS-REx team will now practice and refine the procedures needed to recover the sample in Utah and transport it to a new lab built for material at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, scientists will unpack the sample, distribute up to a quarter of it to the OSIRIS-REx science team around the world, and curate the rest of the sample for studying now and in future generations. Experts are reviewing the trajectory that will bring the spacecraft close to Earth, and crew members are practicing their steps to recover the capsule, safely protecting it from contamination. The curation team will unpack, process the sample inside glove boxes, and prepare some of the investigations that will perform with the sample material once received. The return to Earth of samples from asteroid Bennu will be the culmination of more than 12 years by NASA and its partners, and scientists from around the world will turn their attention to analyzing this unique and precious material that dates back to the early formation of our solar system.