A NASA space capsule carrying the largest soil sample ever collected from an asteroid’s surface successfully landed in the Utah desert on Sunday. The capsule, released from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, touched down within a designated landing zone west of Salt Lake City. This marked the end of a six-year joint mission between NASA and the University of Arizona, and it was the third asteroid sample, and the largest, ever returned to Earth for analysis. The landing was captured on a NASA livestream, and the capsule landed softly and nearly flawlessly with the help of a parachute.
The successful landing brought relief and joy to the scientists involved in the project. Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona scientist, expressed his emotions by saying, “We heard ‘main chute detected,’ and I literally broke into tears.” Tim Prizer, a Lockheed Martin engineer, described the landing as “soft as a dove.”
The sample collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was obtained from the asteroid Bennu, a small carbon-rich asteroid discovered in 1999. Bennu is classified as a “near-Earth object” because it passes relatively close to our planet every six years. The asteroid is of great interest to scientists because it holds valuable clues about the origins and development of rocky planets like Earth. It may even contain organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched in 2016 and reached Bennu in 2018. After spending nearly two years orbiting the asteroid, the spacecraft successfully collected a sample of the loose surface material in October 2020. In May 2021, the spacecraft began its journey back to Earth, covering a distance of 1.2 billion miles. The capsule reentered Earth’s atmosphere at a speed 35 times the speed of sound, reaching temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The sample collected from Bennu is estimated to be 250 grams, significantly larger than previous asteroid samples.
A recovery team of scientists and technicians was ready to retrieve the capsule and ensure that the sample remained free of any contamination. The capsule and its contents were transported to a “clean room” at the Utah test range for initial examination. It will then be flown to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the canister will be opened, and the samples will be distributed to scientists in laboratories around the world.
The success of the mission paves the way for further exploration of asteroids. The main portion of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to continue its journey to explore another near-Earth asteroid called Apophis.
In conclusion, the NASA space capsule carrying the largest asteroid soil sample ever collected successfully landed in the Utah desert. This marked the end of a six-year joint mission between NASA and the University of Arizona. The sample, obtained from the asteroid Bennu, holds valuable clues about the origins of rocky planets and the potential for the emergence of life. The successful landing brings excitement and anticipation for further exploration of asteroids.
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