NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission prepares to return an asteroid sample

In an amazing feat of space exploration, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is set to deliver an asteroid sample to Earth in just two months. The capsule, resembling something out of a 60s science fiction series, will descend through the Earth’s atmosphere and land in the Utah desert on September 24. Recently, a dress rehearsal was held at the U.S. Department of Defense test site in Utah, during which the exact conditions of the upcoming landing were simulated.

The Utah test site, located about 130 kilometers southwest of Salt Lake City, was chosen as the capsule’s landing site. Once released, the capsule would continue on a trajectory toward another asteroid, the infamous Apophis. Without any guidance systems, it will land in an elliptical area measuring 58 by 14 kilometers (36 by 9 miles).

During the dress rehearsal, the team practiced various procedures, including collecting soil samples, preparing the capsule for transportation and even flying a helicopter to retrieve the capsule. Once retrieved, the capsule will be taken to NASA’s Johnson Space Center where it will be thoroughly analyzed.

Sandy Freund, Lockheed Martin’s OSIRIS-REx mission operations manager, explained that upon arrival at Johnson Space Center, the science container inside the capsule will be opened in a specialized clean room and glove box. This controlled environment ensures that the sample will remain uncontaminated throughout the analysis process.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descended to the asteroid Bennu on October 20, 2020, with the goal of collecting at least 60 grams (2 ounces) of material. However, the flight exceeded expectations and a large amount of material was collected, resulting in some large rocks blocking the sampler head and some material escaping. NASA estimates that 400 to 1,000 grams (14 to 35 ounces) of material was successfully collected.

Asteroid Bennu was chosen for this mission due to the fact that it is an intact relic of the early solar system. Scientists believe it has undergone minimal change since its formation, making it a valuable source of information about the birth of our planets. Analysis of the collected samples will provide crucial insights into the composition and history of our cosmic neighborhood.

Experts have expressed their excitement about the impending return of the samples and the potential scientific discoveries they may make. Dr. Harold C. Connolly Jr., OSIRIS-REx mission sample specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said, “The material we bring back from Bennu will allow us to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our solar system, including the origin of life on Earth.”

As we eagerly await the return of the OSIRIS-REx capsule, the world anticipates the groundbreaking discoveries contained in its precious cargo. This remarkable mission marks an important milestone in our quest to unravel the mysteries of our celestial origins.

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