NASA has landed its first asteroid rocks from house

A capsule holding valuable bits of house rock fell from the sky at breakneck velocity Sunday morning, finishing the primary U.S. mission to carry house a pattern from an asteroid.

The capsule’s restoration from a Utah desert concludes a seven-year, 4 billion-mile journey via house which will assist scientists remedy mysteries of the photo voltaic system and even make clear how life sprung on Earth.

NASA plucked the mushroom-shaped pod from the Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake Metropolis, after its touchdown at 8:52 a.m. Mountain Time. The U.S. house company selected the big navy base to drop the projectile to keep away from danger to human life.

However the charred capsule containing gravel and filth from the asteroid Bennu wasn’t allowed to remain put for lengthy. A helicopter whisked it away to a clear room on the vary’s Dugway Proving Ground, the Military’s largest and most remoted facility within the continental United States.

UPDATE: Sep. 24, 2023, 1:32 p.m. EDT At about 11 a.m. Mountain Time, two hours after the capsule landed, OSIRIS-Rex scientists wheeled the charred container into the clear room at Dugway Proving Floor for preliminary processing utilizing a nitrogen fuel to purge undesirable gasses.

NASA known as the OSIRIS-Rex touchdown — quick for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security Regolith Explorer — a historic success. Although officers have all the time expressed confidence that the crew would clinch it, the feat has been likened to throwing a landing go over 10 soccer fields and touchdown it completely in that endzone.

“And landing of the OSIRIS-Rex pattern return capsule,” mentioned commentator James Tralie, throughout NASA’s reside broadcast of the touchdown. “A journey … to asteroid Bennu and again has come to an finish, marking America’s first pattern return mission of its sort and opening a time capsule to our historical photo voltaic system.”


NASA wanted assist with a mission. The Vatican got here to the rescue.

About 4 hours earlier than the touchdown, flight controllers commanded the spacecraft to drop the capsule whereas it was nonetheless 63,000 miles above Earth. In the meantime, they have been aiming for a goal of only 250 square miles on the bottom. At its highest velocity, the capsule, protected by a warmth protect, traveled 27,650 mph, engulfed in a fireball.

Over the previous week, rain had sprinkled the area, making the desert flooring a bit mushy and muddy. However the climate improved in time for a capsule scavenger hunt. The mission was met with clear skies and low wind Sunday morning, making it comparatively straightforward to search out.

The Air Drive assisted with the operation, utilizing radar and cameras to find out the exact location of the capsule for the restoration crew. With assist from its glowing tail, airmen noticed it plunging via the sky at about 8:40 a.m. native time. Inside half-hour of its landing, personnel rendezvoused with the package deal, sweeping the world round it for security. The capsule was discovered intact, its nostril firmly planted within the floor.

NASA wheeling in asteroid Bennu capsule

Scientists wheel the OSIRIS-Rex capsule right into a clear room at Dugway Proving Floor in Utah on Sunday morning.
Credit score: NASA / Youtube screenshot

Now the onerous half begins. Scientists say it might take days — maybe weeks — earlier than they’ve a grasp on what’s within the pattern canister. Estimates primarily based on the rate of the spacecraft recommend it might maintain a half-pound or a cup’s value of rubble inside, however nobody is aware of for certain.

“That is the rarest stuff we have ever had on Earth.”

Historic significance of OSIRIS-Rex mission

Not because the Apollo moon rocks, collected between 1969 and 1972, has NASA introduced again house souvenirs of this magnitude. Japan’s house company, JAXA, however, has turn into the worldwide chief in such missions, having retrieved a lot smaller samples twice already from asteroids Itokawa and Ryugu.

NASA’s bigger $800 million mission, years after the Hayabusa missions, might augur a brand new period in asteroid analysis. OSIRIS-Rex’s return kicks off “asteroid autumn,” mentioned NASA program govt Melissa Morris, a sequence of crewless house voyages to small worlds within the remaining months of 2023. In October, NASA will launch its Psyche mission to a never-before-seen metal-rich asteroid. Then in November, the Lucy spacecraft will fly by an asteroid within the inside principal belt to check its asteroid-tracking navigation system.

Japan sharing Ryugu sample with NASA

Japan’s house company, JAXA, shared a few of its Ryugu pattern with NASA.
Credit score: NASA / Robert Markowitz

The house company chosen Bennu for OSIRIS-Rex as a result of it’s chock-full of carbon, that means it might comprise the chemical origins of life. The robotic spacecraft launched in 2016 and arrived on the asteroid two years later. The probe orbited the asteroid for 2 extra years, collecting data, earlier than scooping a pattern. Then in 2021, it headed again towards Earth.

Bennu, about 200 million miles away, is as broad because the Empire State Constructing is tall. The asteroid additionally has an especially distant probability of hitting Earth within the twenty second century. Studying in regards to the house rock could possibly be useful for future efforts to deflect it, ought to that ever turn into crucial.

NASA carrying capsule to helicopter

OSIRIS-Rex crew members carried the “bagged” capsule to a helicopter about an hour after its touchdown to be flown to a clear room for processing Sunday.
Credit score: NASA / Youtube screenshot

“That is the rarest stuff we have ever had on Earth,” mentioned Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle.

Asteroids are considered the leftover rubble from our photo voltaic system’s formation 4.6 billion years in the past. These historical house rocks — or “grandfather rocks,” as one of many OSIRIS-Rex teammates put it — might present clues about how your entire photo voltaic system developed.

NASA observing Bennu asteroid

The asteroid Bennu is about as broad because the Empire State Constructing is tall.
Credit score: NASA

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What scientists wish to study from Bennu

Scientists are poised to chip away at large questions with the brand new asteroid pattern, like how do natural supplies originate, and why did life emerge on Earth?

Helicopter carrying capsule

A helicopter carries the landed capsule with an extended line to a clear room for preliminary processing.
Credit score: NASA / Youtube screenshot

By way of the spacecraft’s pictures, the crew noticed so-called “hydrothermal mineral deposits” on Bennu that they consider could have occurred early in photo voltaic system historical past, mentioned Dante Lauretta, the crew’s principal scientist, primarily based on the College of Arizona.

These are lengthy veins of salty materials that might recommend a hydrothermal system just like what exists at Earth’s mid-ocean ridge. It is a key setting the place geologists suppose origin-of-life chemistry could have begun for this planet. However this sort of materials hasn’t proven up in Japan’s Ryugu pattern or any meteorites discovered on Earth thus far.

“What I wish to know is how do you go from a easy carbon molecule, like methane, which is a pure fuel, to one thing like amino acids, which make our proteins, or nucleic acid, which makes up our genetic materials,” Lauretta mentioned.

NASA beginning initial processing of sample container

The OSIRIS-Rex capsule will spend the evening in Utah earlier than being transported to NASA’s Johnson Area Middle in Houston.
Credit score: NASA / Youtube screenshot

His dream discovery can be proof of amino acids beginning to hyperlink collectively to type a series, referred to as peptides, signaling protein evolution.

“It is most likely an extended shot, however it will be a spectacular science end result if we’d uncover one thing like that,” Lauretta mentioned.

Bennu earned the nickname “the trickster asteroid” throughout OSIRIS-Rex’s spaceflight. Scientists believed when the spacecraft touched down to gather the pattern three years in the past, it will encounter pebbles. As a substitute, closeup pictures confirmed boulders and a floor that acted like a plastic ball pit.

Scientists preparing the asteroid sample glovebox

Scientists say it might take days — maybe weeks — earlier than they’ve a grasp on what’s within the pattern canister.
Credit score: Andrew Ryan / College of Arizona

A whole bunch of scientists and 60 laboratories all over the world will examine bits of the pattern. However the rocks’ first cease can be NASA’s Johnson Area Middle in Houston, the place a specifically designed clear room and glovebox are awaiting its arrival. The pattern is anticipated to fly on a C-17 plane Monday.

About 20 minutes after dropping the capsule, the spacecraft fired its thrusters to keep away from Earth. Then it formally started a brand new mission — OSIRIS-Apex — to one more asteroid. If all goes effectively, the spacecraft will attain Apophis in 2029.

As for OSIRIS-Rex, scientists hope to open the lid of the canister on Monday or Tuesday.

“An enormous a part of the job can be getting that materials out to the scientific group” to review, Lauretta mentioned. “It is a present to the world.”