NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Capsule Returns with Asteroid Bennu’s Sample

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission successfully returned a sample capsule from the Bennu asteroid, marking a significant scientific achievement. The pristine samples are poised to unlock mysteries about our solar system's formation and the potential hazards posed by asteroids.

The sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense's Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Photo Credit: (NASA/Keegan Barber)

Worldsfeed Desk After years of meticulous planning and dedication by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team, the momentous return of a capsule filled with rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu has finally become a reality. The capsule touched down successfully on Earth at 8:52 a.m. MDT on Sunday, landing precisely in the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City. This remarkable achievement marks the culmination of a complex journey that started when the spacecraft launched on September 8, 2016.

Preserving the Sample’s Purity Upon landing, the capsule was swiftly transported by helicopter to a temporary clean room within a hangar on the training range. One of the team’s top priorities was to initiate a “nitrogen purge,” a process crucial for maintaining the sample’s pristine condition. Nitrogen, a chemically inert gas, was continuously pumped into the sample container to prevent any earthly contaminants from compromising the scientific analyses.

A Wealth of Scientific Potential The returned samples collected from the asteroid Bennu carry immense scientific potential. They hold the key to unraveling mysteries about planet formation, the origin of organic compounds, and the presence of water, which played a vital role in the development of life on Earth. Additionally, this mission serves the broader goal of enhancing our understanding of potentially hazardous asteroids, like Bennu, which could pose a threat to Earth. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson lauded the OSIRIS-REx team for their groundbreaking mission and emphasized the importance of these efforts in safeguarding our planet.

The Road Ahead The returned Bennu sample, estimated at approximately 8.8 ounces or 250 grams, will be carefully transported by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday, September 25. At the center, curation scientists will meticulously disassemble the canister, weigh the sample, catalog its contents, and, over time, distribute portions of Bennu to scientists worldwide. This remarkable milestone underscores the collaborative spirit of humanity when united with a common purpose.

The Beginning of a New Chapter After covering billions of miles to reach Bennu and back, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully released its sample capsule, which journeyed through Earth’s atmosphere before landing with precision. This historic event exemplified the extraordinary teamwork and dedication of hundreds of individuals who have guided the mission from its inception in 2016. As Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, aptly puts it, this moment marks the end of one incredible chapter and the beginning of another. The scientific community now has an unprecedented opportunity to delve into the secrets of our solar system, armed with the precious samples from Bennu.

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