NASA Capsule Returns with Ancient Asteroid Samples from Solar System’s Dawn

In a groundbreaking achievement for the United States, NASA has successfully retrieved samples from an asteroid in deep space. 

The mission, conducted by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, marks the agency’s first-ever attempt to collect and recover pieces from an asteroid.

The operation occurred at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in the arid Utah desert. 

A space capsule containing samples of asteroid Bennu, collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2020, was safely recovered in a mid-morning operation. 

This historic mission involved the collection of asteroid material and its safe return to Earth, demonstrating NASA’s capabilities in planetary exploration.

The OSIRIS-REx probe embarked on an incredible journey, covering over 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers) to reach asteroid Bennu and then return to Earth. 

The sample return capsule was released approximately 63,000 miles (101,000 km) above Earth’s surface.

The capsule contained approximately 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of rocks and other materials from the asteroid Bennu. 

Scientists believe that studying these samples can provide valuable insights into the origins of life on Earth and shed light on the early days of our solar system.

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Triumph: OSIRIS-REx Capsule’s Remarkable Descent

The descent of the OSIRIS-REx capsule was an extraordinary feat, with the spacecraft reaching speeds of up to 27,000 mph (43,450 km/h) and its heatshield experiencing temperatures as high as 5,300 degrees Fahrenheit (2,900 Celsius) during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The capsule deployed its main parachute at an altitude higher than expected, 20,000 feet instead of 5,000 feet. 

However, the mission’s success was confirmed when the main parachute deployed safely, ensuring the capsule’s safe landing.

After its descent, the sample return capsule was examined to ensure its integrity. It was found intact with no breaches, providing confidence in safely retrieving the asteroid material.

The following steps involve transporting the capsule to a temporary cleanroom at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. 

Once secured in the facility, the tablet will be opened, and the canister containing the asteroid sample will be prepared for transport.

The asteroid material will then be loaded onto an aircraft and flown to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, where a specialized facility, the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) division, is ready to receive it.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised the achievement, emphasizing that it demonstrates NASA’s ability to undertake ambitious missions that inspire and unite people. 

The collected sample will be distributed among different scientific institutions and space agencies, with NASA retaining 70% for analysis at JSC.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, which spanned seven years and encountered unexpected challenges, has successfully concluded with the safe return of asteroid Bennu samples. 

‘This historic achievement is a testament to NASA’s dedication and meticulous approach to space exploration.

While this marks NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, Japan’s JAXA has previously completed two such missions, with successful sample returns from Itokawa and Ryugu.

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Source: Space

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