NASA’s first asteroid samples land on Earth after release from spacecraft
Washington: NASA’s first asteroid samples fetched from deep space parachuted into the Utah desert Sunday to cap a seven-year journey.
In a flyby of Earth, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the sample capsule from 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) out. The small capsule landed four hours later on a remote expanse of military land, as the mothership set off after another asteroid. Scientists estimate the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu, but won’t know for sure until the container is opened. Some spilled and floated away when the spacecraft scooped up too much and rocks jammed the container’s lid during collection three years ago. Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions.
The pebbles and dust delivered Sunday represent the biggest haul from beyond the moon. Preserved building blocks from the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, the samples will help scientists better understand how Earth and life formed.
Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the 1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu two years later and, using a long stick vacuum, grabbed rubble from the small roundish space rock in 2020. By the time it returned, the spacecraft had logged 4 billion miles. NASA’s recovery effort in Utah included helicopters as well as a temporary clean room set up at the Defense Department’s Utah Test.