NASA’s first-ever samples of an asteroid in deep space have successfully landed on Earth. In an operation at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, NASA and the U.S. Air Force recovered a space capsule containing samples of asteroid Bennu taken by the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2020. This mission is a significant achievement as it marks the first time that NASA has collected and recovered a sample of an asteroid.
The OSIRIS-REx probe traveled over 4 billion miles to reach Bennu and made its return journey to Earth. The sample return capsule was released while the probe was 63,000 miles above Earth. Inside the capsule are approximately 250 grams of rocks and other materials from Bennu. These samples have the potential to provide valuable insights into the origins of life on Earth and the formation of our solar system.
During a live broadcast, Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, expressed excitement about the achievement, stating, “For the first time in history, we brought goodies back home from this kind of object. This is so huge, and we’re all breathing a big sigh of relief.”
The descent of the capsule from the Earth’s atmosphere to the desert sands of the Utah Test and Training Range took under 13 minutes to complete the 4 billion-mile journey. The OSIRIS-REx mission, which cost $1 billion, was launched in 2016, reached Bennu in 2018, and collected samples in 2020.
After a thorough examination to ensure safety, the capsule will be transported to a temporary cleanroom at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground. It will then be opened, and the canister containing the precious sample of asteroid Bennu will be prepared for further transport. The next step involves loading the asteroid material onto an aircraft and flying it to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for further study.