In late 2020, a spacecraft completed an impressive 1.2 billion-mile trip and touched down in the desert with precious cargo from Bennu, an asteroid as old as 4.6 billion years. However, the celebration was briefly put on hold because NASA ran into an unusual problem—they couldn’t crack open the container that held these ancient space rocks.
Persistent Efforts Yield Success
Determination and innovation at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston led to a breakthrough. Scientists finally managed to open the canister after months of effort, dislodging two stubborn fasteners that had kept the precious asteroid samples out of reach. “It’s open! It’s open!” NASA’s Planetary Science Division exclaimed, celebrating the revelation of the sample’s slate-colored dust and small rocks.
Custom Solutions for a Unique Challenge
The mission team had to devise custom tools to tackle the canister’s fasteners, as no existing tools were adequate. In a clean room setting to avoid contamination, the team meticulously worked with tools made from surgical-grade, non-magnetic stainless steel. Their success means the approximately 9-ounce sample can now be weighed and analyzed in detail.
Unveiling the Secrets of the Solar System
Dr. Nicole Lunning from NASA, who oversees the OSIRIS-REx mission’s samples, is thrilled about reaching this important goal. The mission, which cost a billion dollars and started more than seven years ago, had one main objective: to fetch an unspoiled bit of what our solar system was like in its earliest days.
It’s really important to understand what these samples represent. They are not like the asteroid bits that crash-land on our planet, getting fried as they dive through the atmosphere. These space nuggets are special because nothing has messed with them. They’re a peephole into the solar system’s youth. Ashley King, who works at the Natural History Museum in London, pointed out there’s a lot we can learn from them, including what stuff was around and how it all came together to create planets such as ours.
OSIRIS-REx’s Next Adventure: Apophis
The spacecraft, which just completed its job of bringing treasures back to Earth, is now called OSIRIS-APEX. And what’s next for it? It’s heading to a really interesting place: Apophis. This asteroid looks like a peanut and there was a time when people thought it might hit our planet. But don’t worry, that’s not going to happen. Instead, we get to have a good look at it when it comes super close to Earth in 2029 – closer than any big space rock has ever come before.
Global Collaboration and Future Prospects
The OSIRIS-REx mission is a big win for NASA and an awesome show of teamwork between scientists from across the globe. More than 230 experts will get their hands on these space rocks, giving us all sorts of new ideas about how our solar system came to be. Working together like this could lead to even more countries teaming up to check out space, helping us all realize how we fit into the big picture of the cosmos.
The Promise of Asteroid Research
Asteroids like Bennu hold keys to understanding the building blocks of our solar system. Studying these ancient remnants can offer clues about the formation of planets and the emergence of life. With missions like OSIRIS-REx, we are not just reaching out to the stars; we are also delving into our past, seeking answers to fundamental questions about our existence and the cosmos.
The Exciting Road Ahead
- Comprehensive Analysis: The remainder of the Bennu sample will undergo extensive study, revealing more about its composition and the origins of the solar system.
- Future Research: A significant portion of the sample will be preserved at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for future analysis, utilizing yet-to-be-developed technology.
- Public Display: Some of the asteroid bits will be displayed at notable institutions like the Smithsonian, Space Center Houston, and the University of Arizona, making this cosmic discovery accessible to the public.
We’ll know the final weight of the sample soon, and it’s already more than NASA wanted. This is not just a win for space travel but also a shining light for our desire to learn, as we keep figuring out the secrets of our solar system and more. Read More.