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NASA Confirms The Return Of Bennu Asteroid Samples

NASA confirms the return of Bennu asteroid samples after seven years in space. The small capsule, roughly the size of a microwave oven, touched down safely on Sunday morning, drawing cheers from an enthusiastic crowd.

Author:Karan Emery
Reviewer:Daniel James
Sep 25, 2023
NASA confirms the return of Bennu asteroid samplesafter seven years in space. The small capsule, roughly the size of a microwave oven, touched down safely on Sunday morning, drawing cheers from an enthusiastic crowd. While it arrived slightly earlier than the planned schedule, the landing unfolded precisely as intended.
"We have touchdown!" declared Mission Recovery Operations, quickly reiterating the news, as the landing happened three minutes ahead of schedule. Officials later explained that the orange-striped parachute deployed at a significantly higher altitude than expected, approximately 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), based on the deceleration rate.
Much to the collective relief, the capsule remained undamaged and unbreached, ensuring the preservation of its 4.5 billion-year-old samples, uncontaminated. Within a mere two hours after landing, a helicopter hoisted the capsule into a temporary clean room located at the Defense Department's Utah Test and Training Range.
On Monday, the sealed sample canister is scheduled for transport to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it will undergo opening and analysis within a newly constructed, specialized laboratory. This facility already holds the precious hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of moon rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts.
"We can’t wait to crack into it. For me, the real science is just beginning," expressed Dante Lauretta, the lead scientist of the mission, hailing from the University of Arizona. He will personally oversee the transportation of the samples to Texas for further study.
Lori Glaze, NASA’s planetary science division director, added: "Those are going to be a treasure for scientific analysis for years and years and years to come."
Two recovery team members carrying the OSIRIS-REx capsule
Two recovery team members carrying the OSIRIS-REx capsule
Scientists estimate that the capsule contains at least a cup's worth of material from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu. However, the exact quantity won't be confirmed until the container is opened, which is expected to happen in a day or two. Some material had spilled and floated away during the collection process three years ago when the spacecraft gathered an excessive amount, causing the container's lid to become jammed.
Japan, the only other country to successfully retrieve samples from an asteroid, managed to collect about a teaspoon's worth of material during two asteroid missions.
The pebbles and dust delivered on Sunday constitute the largest haul from beyond the moon. These preserved remnants from the early days of our solar system will provide valuable insights into the formation of Earth and life itself.
The OSIRIS-REx mothership embarked on this $1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu in 2018 and, using a unique long stick vacuum, collected material from the small, roundish space rock in 2020. Over the course of its journey, the spacecraft covered an impressive 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).
During a later news conference held several hours after the landing, Dante Lauretta, the mission's lead scientist, revealed that he was moved to tears of joy upon learning that the capsule's main parachute had successfully deployed.
"I knew we had made it home," he exclaimed, his emotions overwhelming him as he arrived at the landing site. His sentiment was so strong that he felt the urge to embrace the capsule, which, despite its sooty appearance, remained undamaged and unaltered.
In Colorado, the flight controllers from spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin rose from their seats and offered applause in celebration of the successful touchdown. NASA's camera feeds displayed the charred capsule resting upside down on the sandy terrain, with its parachute detached and scattered nearby, while the recovery team approached via helicopters.
Boy, did we stick that landing. It didn't move, it didn't roll, it didn't bounce. It just made a tiny little divot in the Utah soil.- Dante Lauretta


NASA's current mission to bring back asteroid samples isn't their first try. In 2004, they had a mission called Genesis, but it had a problem with its parachute and crashed in Utah. Some of its samples were damaged, but they saved some.
Two years later, NASA did better with the Stardust mission. It safely came back to Earth with samples from a comet and interstellar dust, making it a successful mission.
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Karan Emery

Karan Emery

Karan Emery, an accomplished researcher and leader in health sciences, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals, brings over two decades of experience to the table. Holding a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Stanford University, Karan's credentials underscore her authority in the field. With a track record of groundbreaking research and numerous peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals, Karan's expertise is widely recognized in the scientific community. Her writing style is characterized by its clarity and meticulous attention to detail, making complex scientific concepts accessible to a broad audience. Apart from her professional endeavors, Karan enjoys cooking, learning about different cultures and languages, watching documentaries, and visiting historical landmarks. Committed to advancing knowledge and improving health outcomes, Karan Emery continues to make significant contributions to the fields of health, biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals.
Daniel James

Daniel James

Daniel James is a distinguished gerontologist, author, and professional coach known for his expertise in health and aging. With degrees from Georgia Tech and UCLA, including a diploma in gerontology from the University of Boston, Daniel brings over 15 years of experience to his work. His credentials also include a Professional Coaching Certification, enhancing his credibility in personal development and well-being. In his free time, Daniel is an avid runner and tennis player, passionate about fitness, wellness, and staying active. His commitment to improving lives through health education and coaching reflects his passion and dedication in both professional and personal endeavors.
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