“A pristine sample could provide insights into the development of the solar system,” said a key member of the NASA research team
Dozens more riddles of the vast Space are expected to be answered in the coming months. NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft began the journey back to Earth, carrying for the first time in the history of mankind, a sample from the surface of an asteroid, namely Bennu.
The spacecraft is expected on Earth on September 24. The capsule with the sample from the asteroid’s surface will be parachuted into the Utah desert, opening new horizons in space exploration.
“Once the sample capsule comes down, our team will race against time to retrieve it and get it to the safety of a clean room,” said Mike Morrow, associate project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, N.Y. Maryland.
Over the next six months, the OSIRIS-REx team will refine the procedures needed to retrieve the sample in Utah and transport it to the laboratory 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 for analysis, and curate the rest for other scientists to study, now and for generations to come.
Asteroids are the ancient materials left over from the early days of planet formation and may contain the molecular precursors of life. Scientists have learned a lot from studying asteroid fragments that have naturally reached Earth as meteorites. But to understand whether asteroids played a role in bringing these compounds to Earth’s surface 4 billion years ago, scientists need a pristine sample from space, free of terrestrial contaminants.
“There are two things pervasive on Earth: water and biology,” he said Dr. Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA Goddard. “Both can severely alter meteorites when they land on the ground and mess with the story told by the chemistry and mineralogy of the sample. A pristine sample could provide insights into the development of the solar system.”
On September 24, as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flies past Earth, it will release its sample return capsule, ending its primary mission.
Recovery crews are responsible for securing the landing site of the sample return capsule and transporting it to a portable clean room located in the area. In addition, the crews will collect soil and air samples around the lander.
Once the capsule is inside the portable cleanroom building, team members will remove the heat shield, back shell and other components to prepare the sample container for transport to Houston.
The return to Earth of samples from the Bennu asteroids will be the culmination of a more than 12-year effort by NASA and mission partners, but it marks the beginning of a new phase of discovery as scientists from around the world will turn their attention to analyzing this unique and valuable material dating back to the early formation of our solar system.
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