Asteroid Bennu to Promise Pristine ET Material From Space, says NASA

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 22, 2020

In a similar effort, Japan's space agency, which a year ago collected the first-ever subsurface samples from an asteroid around 200 million miles away, should see the material arrive back on Earth in December 2020.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein offered his congratulations, saying, "We are on our way to bring back the largest sample brought home from space since Apollo". The goal of the project is to deliver rock samples of this body to Earth for a comprehensive study in laboratory conditions.

Hurtling through space more than 200 million miles from Earth, the tricky "touch and go" maneuver involved the spacecraft making brief contact with the asteroid to grab at least 60 grams worth of material. To decide whether that objective has been met, in the coming hours Osiris-Rex will move to a protected position and afterward move its arm into position to take photographs of the authority head and gauge how much mass exists in. "Before it arrives, we'll be preparing in many ways, such as holding sample return capsule retrieval and disassembly rehearsals to the make sure the actual event goes as smoothly as possible and the sample is protected". The time lag did not allow for live command of the flight, so OSIRIS-REX conducted the procedure autonomously.

Lauretta, chief investigator at OSIRIS-Rex, told Al Jazeera in an interview ahead of Tuesday's breakthrough: "If this kind of chemistry occurred in the early solar system, it would have occurred in other solar systems as well".

The spacecraft extended a robotic arm called Tagsam, which it used to touch the asteroid for about five seconds, eject pressurized nitrogen to stir up the surface and suck up a sample of 60 to 2,000 grams before gliding away. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for almost two years, preparing for the "touch and go" maneuver, also dubbed a "high-five" by some.

When OSIRIS-REx was launched, back in 2016, mission planners had expected to find a smooth stretch of cosmic sand for sample collection.

Scientists want to get between 2 ounces and 4 pounds of Bennu's black, carbon-rich material - thought to contain the building blocks of our solar system. During the maneuver, the spacecraft and the asteroid will be approximately 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth.

Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator. Data from OSIRIS-REx also indicate that the rocks on Bennu are so fragile that they could not reach the Earth's surface intact.

Scientists could also learn more about the types of resources that could be extracted from asteroids, as well as the best strategies for diverting potentially hazardous space rocks. "The spacecraft will then divert away from Earth, going into orbit around the sun, and the canister will descend to the atmosphere and on a parachute land in the Utah desert just before 9:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023". Regardless of the number of attempts required, samples will not return to Earth until 2023 to close a mission valued at over $ 800 million.

"That will be another big day for us. But this is absolutely the major event of the mission right now", NASA scientist Lucy Lim said Tuesday. Bennu has been (mostly) undisturbed for billions of years.

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