After years of dedicated work and anticipation, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has accomplished a historic milestone by safely delivering a capsule filled with rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu to Earth. This remarkable feat, completed with precision, holds the promise of advancing the understanding of planet formation, the origins of organic compounds and water on Earth, and enhancing our knowledge of potentially hazardous asteroids. Let’s delve into this extraordinary achievement and its profound implications.
MOMENTOUS ARRIVAL ON EARTH
On a momentous Sunday morning at 8:52 a.m. MDT (10:52 a.m. EDT), the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s sample capsule touched down precisely within the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City. The capsule contained invaluable samples collected from the asteroid Bennu, contributing to the global scientific quest to unravel the mysteries of our solar system’s formation and the emergence of life-sustaining elements.
SIGNIFICANCE OF ASTEROID SAMPLES
The returned samples, estimated to weigh 8.8 ounces or 250 grams, are a treasure trove for scientists worldwide. These fragments offer insights into the complex processes that shaped our planet, including the origin of organic compounds and the presence of water that played a pivotal role in the evolution of life on Earth. Moreover, they provide essential data about the composition and characteristics of potentially hazardous asteroids, which can inform strategies for planetary defence.
The “Nitrogen Purge” Protocol One of the most crucial tasks undertaken by the OSIRIS-REx team was ensuring the pristine condition of the asteroid samples. To accomplish this, they implemented a “nitrogen purge,” a method that involves maintaining a continuous flow of nitrogen gas into the sample container inside the capsule. This isolation prevents terrestrial contaminants from compromising the integrity of the samples and ensures their purity for rigorous scientific analysis.
A HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated the OSIRIS-REx team on the success of their groundbreaking mission. This marks the first-ever American asteroid sample return, a monumental step forward in space exploration. These achievements open new horizons and underscore NASA’s commitment to understanding our universe, inspiring humanity, and fostering international cooperation.
BEGINNING OF A NEW CHAPTER
While this moment is cause for celebration, it signifies the beginning of a new phase in our quest for knowledge. Scientists now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyze these samples in-depth, unlocking a wealth of information about our solar system’s history and its potential implications for life beyond Earth. This triumph showcases the power of collaboration and shared purpose, reminding us that our exploration of the cosmos is just beginning.
EPIC JOURNEY IN SPACE EXPLORATION
OSIRIS-REx’s journey to Bennu and back, spanning billions of miles, was a colossal undertaking that involved the efforts of hundreds of individuals who tirelessly guided the spacecraft remotely. From its launch in 2016 to arrival at Bennu in 2018, the intricate sample collection process in 2020, and the return journey starting in 2021, this mission has epitomized dedication, precision, and scientific ambition.
JOURNEY FOR ALL OF HUMANITY
The successful delivery of the asteroid sample highlights the significance of international collaboration and the pursuit of knowledge for the greater good. This milestone advances our understanding of our place in the universe and inspires us to push the boundaries of what’s possible in space exploration.
SAFE ARRIVAL OF THE CAPSULE
After the long and perilous journey, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released its sample capsule towards Earth’s atmosphere at 6:42 a.m. EDT (4:42 a.m. MDT). Descending from a distance of 63,000 miles (102,000 kilometres) from Earth’s surface, the capsule pierced the atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. EDT (8:42 a.m. MDT) off the coast of California. Two parachutes safely deployed to stabilize and slow the capsule, ensuring a gentle touchdown at 11 mph (18 kph).
NEXT CHAPTER IN SPACE EXPLORATION
This historic mission is only the beginning of a new phase in the exploration of our solar system. The insights gained from these asteroid samples hold the potential to reshape our understanding of the cosmos, providing answers to age-old questions and sparking new ones.