“Asteroid Sample Lands in the US: NASA’s Remarkable Achievement” – News21USA

US News Today (News21USA): In a significant scientific achievement, NASA has successfully brought back an asteroid sample to Earth, offering valuable insights into the solar system’s origins and a potential understanding of asteroid threats. This remarkable feat marks the first time NASA has accomplished such a mission.

After seven years of space travel, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completed a flyby of Earth, delivering a pristine sample collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. NASA provided a livestream of this extraordinary delivery and the subsequent recovery efforts.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, commenced in 2016 and entered orbit around Bennu in 2018. The spacecraft collected the sample in 2020 and began its extensive journey back to Earth in May 2021.

The spacecraft released the sample capsule, containing approximately 8.8 ounces of asteroid rocks and soil, from a distance of 63,000 miles (102,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface on Sunday. It entered Earth’s atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. ET, hurtling at a speed of about 27,650 miles per hour (44,498 kilometers per hour). To ensure a safe landing, parachutes were deployed, slowing the capsule to a gentle touchdown at 11 miles per hour (17.7 kilometers per hour). The sample landed in the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range just ten minutes after entering the atmosphere.

While this achievement is groundbreaking, OSIRIS-REx continues its exploration of the solar system and is currently on its way to study another asteroid named Apophis in detail.

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What happens after landing

Following the successful landing, the OSIRIS-REx mission entered its next phase. Four helicopters were utilized to transport recovery and research teams to the landing site. Their primary task was to assess the capsule’s condition to ensure it hadn’t sustained any damage during landing, as confirmed by Rich Burns, the OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Thankfully, the team verified that the capsule remained intact.

Specially trained recovery teams, who had been preparing for this event for months, were responsible for safely retrieving the 100-pound capsule. Sandra Freund, the OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space, NASA’s partner in spacecraft construction, flight operations, and recovery efforts, oversaw this critical operation.

The initial recovery team, equipped with protective gear, ensured the capsule had cooled down sufficiently for handling, considering it had experienced temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) during reentry, as noted by Burns. Additionally, they ensured the capsule’s battery remained intact, preventing any potential release of harmful fumes.

A dedicated science team gathered samples from the landing site, including various air, dust, and dirt particles. This process aims to maintain the pristine nature of the sample and document any external materials that could potentially affect the analysis, as explained by Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Subsequently, a helicopter transported the sample in a cargo net to a temporary clean room near the landing site. Here, the curation team will perform a nitrogen purge to safeguard against Earth’s atmosphere contaminating the sample canister. Larger components of the capsule will be removed during this phase, supervised by Nicole Lunning, the OSIRIS-REx curation lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The next step involves preparing the sample canister for transport via a C-17 aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, scheduled for Monday. Scientists anticipate unveiling the sample for the first time on Tuesday after removing the lid.

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What the sample may reveal

On October 11, NASA will unveil important details about the asteroid sample collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Although the science team won’t have completed a full assessment of the sample by then, they plan to conduct a rapid analysis of fine-grained material from the top of the canister, with results to be shared in October, according to Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona.

Over the next two years, scientists will meticulously analyze the rocks and soil in a dedicated clean room at the Johnson Space Center. Additionally, portions of the sample will be distributed to laboratories worldwide, including mission partners at the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. Roughly 70% of the sample will be preserved in pristine condition for future generations to study with advanced technology.

Lori Glaze, director for NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, reassured that even in the event of a government shutdown, the curation and safe handling of the asteroid sample would not be compromised. While some steps leading to the analysis might experience delays, the sample will remain protected and secure.

This precious sample, along with a previously returned one from Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission, holds the potential to unlock essential insights about the early solar system. Scientists believe that carbonaceous asteroids like Bennu may have collided with Earth during its formation, delivering crucial elements such as water.

Bennu, which has the potential for future collisions with Earth, is of particular interest. Understanding the composition and orbits of near-Earth asteroids is vital for predicting close encounters and developing strategies to deflect potential threats based on their composition.

NASA’s investment in missions dedicated to studying small celestial bodies like Bennu contributes to advancing our understanding of the solar system’s origins and evolution.

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