NASA’s mission to collect the largest sample from an asteroid and bring it back to Earth has reached its culmination after a seven-year journey covering four billion miles. The spacecraft, known as OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer), successfully collected an 8.8-ounce sample from the asteroid 101955 Bennu in 2020.

Today, OSIRIS-REx will release a sample capsule containing the asteroid material into Earth’s atmosphere and then embark on a new mission. The capsule is expected to make a fiery reentry and land in the western desert of Utah at approximately 8:55 a.m. MDT. The samples will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they will undergo extensive analysis and cataloging.

The pristine material collected from Bennu is expected to provide valuable information about the formation of the Solar System approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe that studying this material will offer a glimpse into the time when the Sun and planets were still in the process of formation.

OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission. While other missions, such as Japan’s Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 missions, have also collected asteroid samples, OSIRIS-REx’s sample is the largest to date. Portions of the Bennu sample will be shared with researchers around the world, allowing for comprehensive study for years to come.

Bennu was chosen as the target of this mission because it is rich in carbon, potentially containing the building blocks of life. Additionally, its proximity to Earth made it accessible for a mission like OSIRIS-REx. The study of Bennu also provides an opportunity to learn about strategies for defense against future asteroid impacts.

Looking ahead, once OSIRIS-REx releases the sample return capsule, it will embark on a new mission under the name OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer (OSIRIS-APEX). The spacecraft will set its sights on intercepting the 1,210-foot diameter asteroid 99942 Apophis in 2029.

This successful NASA mission marks a significant milestone in asteroid exploration and deepens our understanding of the origins of our Solar System.

– Daily Express US
– Image: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center