Samples from America’s First Asteroid Sampling Mission Return to Earth

Samples collected from the asteroid Bennu by Osiris-REX, the first U.S. asteroid sampling probe, were successfully returned to Earth on the 24th. This marks the United States’ first asteroid sample return mission, delivering rocks, dust, and other samples that will aid scientists in understanding planetary formation and the origin of life on Earth.

Home After More than Two Weeks  

According to NASA, at 6:42 am Eastern Time on the 24th, Osiris-REx released the sample module from an altitude of approximately 100,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. After roughly four hours of flight, the module entered Earth’s atmosphere near the coast of California, United States, at 10:42 am. By 10:52 am, with the assistance of parachutes, the sample module successfully landed in a predetermined area within the United States Department of Defense Test Flight Training Area near Salt Lake City, Utah.

Subsequently, the mission team transported the sample capsule to a temporary clean room. The sample, weighing approximately 250 grams, is scheduled to be sent to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, on Tuesday for scientific analysis.

Osiris-REx was launched on September 8, 2016, and arrived near the asteroid Bennu on December 3, 2018. On October 20, 2020, Osiris-REx used its robotic arm to collect samples from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. On May 10, 2021, Osiris-REx began its journey back to Earth.

On Our Way to a Deeper Understanding  

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson expressed his congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team, highlighting this historic mission as the first American asteroid sample return in history. He emphasized the significance of this mission in deepening our understanding of the solar system’s origin and formation.

Additionally, he noted that Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, and the knowledge gained from the sample will aid in understanding asteroids that could potentially impact Earth.

According to NASA, Bennu is 4.5 billion years old and contains material from the early solar system. The study of Bennu will not only enhance our understanding of planet formation and the origin of life on Earth but also provide valuable insights for future research on asteroid orbit deflection technology, particularly for asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth.

More Missions in the Future  

After releasing the sample capsule above Earth’s atmosphere, Osiris-REx initiated its engines to depart Earth’s orbit and begin a new mission named Osiris-Apex. This mission will journey to the asteroid Apophis to conduct exploratory investigations.

Apophis is expected to come within 32,000 kilometers of Earth in 2029. Osiris-Apex is set to enter Apophis’s orbit to observe the effects of the asteroid’s approach on its orbit, rotation rate, and surface.

Currently, military search and rescue teams are en route to the sample capsule’s landing site, with plans to promptly transport it to a temporary clean room to shield it from Earth’s environment.


Flavie Du

Flavie Du was a senior writer at BTW media focused on blockchain and fintech investment. She graduated from King’s College London.

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