A NASA spacecraft has successfully landed on an asteroid to collect a handful of cosmic debris back to Earth for analysis, throwing rocks into building shapes.
The space agency team behind the Osiris-Rex project said preliminary data showed that the sample collection went as planned and that the spacecraft had removed the surface of the asteroid Bennu.
“I can’t believe we actually stopped it,” said Dante Loretta, a top scientist at the University of Arizona. “The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein congratulated him and said: “We are on our way to retrieve the largest sample from Apollo. If all goes well, scientists will study this pattern for generations to come.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft returned the assurance of its brief contact with the asteroid Bennu more than 200 meters (2222 kilometers) away from the mission team to draw cheers. But it could be a week for scientists to find out how much, if anything was caught and if one more attempt is needed to know if successful Osiris-Rex will return the samples in 2023.
The U.S. mission follows a Japanese-led initiative called Hayabusa 2, which will return to Earth in December carrying samples collected from the Earth.4 billion-year-old asteroid Ryugu. When it lands in the Australian wilderness, it will be the first sub-surface asteroid specimen to return to Earth.
At Bennu, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft took four-and-a-half hours to descend from its orbit to the surface, sending the following commands to ground controllers near Denver.
As the asteroid covered only 1,670 feet (510 m), Bennu’s gravity was too low for Osiris-Rex to land. As a result, the spacecraft had to reach with its 11-foot (3.4-meter) robotic arm and try to grab at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of Bennu.
The mission’s sub-scientist, Heather Enos of the University of Arizona, described it as “kissing the surface of measurement with just a few seconds of touch”.
The coronavirus epidemic caused a two-month delay. Tuesday’s expedition was considered the narrowest part of the mission, which returned from Cape Canaveral in 2001.
A van-sized spacecraft called Osiris-Rex was aiming for a space equivalent to a few parking spaces on Earth in the middle of the asteroid’s Nightingale crater. After orbiting Binnu for about two years, the spacecraft discovered the position that it contained small enough particles to swallow.
After determining that the coast was clear, Osiris-Rex closed in the final few yards for sampling. The spacecraft was programmed to release pressurized nitrogen gas to light up, then a loose leak could suck up pebbles or dust.
Scientists want Bennu’s black, fragmented, carbon-rich substance between 2 ounces (60g) and 4 pounds (2 kg) to hold the building blocks of our solar system.
Thomas Juruchen, head of NASA’s science mission, compared Bennu to the Rosta Stone, “It tells the history of our entire world, the solar system, for millions of years.”
Another advantage: Bennu has little chance of taking over the world by the end of the next century, although not seen as a show-stopping life-end. The more risky places like this, the more scientists know about the paths and features of rocks, the better. Osiris-Rex can handle three touch-and-go strategies in case of shortening. No matter how hard you try, the samples won’t return to Earth until 2023 for $ 800m-plus exploration. The sample capsule will parachute into the Utah Desert.
“It simply came to our notice then. But right now this is the biggest event on the mission, “said NASA scientist Lucy Lim.
Meanwhile, NASA plans to launch three more asteroid missions, all in one direction, in the next two years.
With associate press
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