It was a brave move. The mission was to briefly touch the surface of an asteroid and collect samples. Then run away. The Osiris Rex ship made it without any problems. Yesterday NASA published the photos of the spacecraft and took samples from the asteroid Bennu.
The primitive Bennu
It was made 330 million kilometers away. The vehicle made contact with the 500 meter wide object Bennu. The goal was to get at least 60 grams, maybe even a kilo or more.
“Emotions are high. They are all very proud,” said the mission’s chief investigator, Dante Lauretta. It belongs to the University of Arizona, Tucson. “This was the most important milestone on this mission. Now there are a few days left to find out “How much we got from this amazing sample. We’ve been planning for decades,” added Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Science Administrator at NASA.
Bennu is a very primitive space object. Scientists believe the sand and dust on its surface could contain fascinating clues. They would help understand the chemistry that created the sun and planets 4.5 billion years ago.
Osiris-Rex is expected to have collected an appropriate sample. The spaceship should return to Earth in 2023. The spaceship was launched in September 2016. It reached Bennu in December 2018. If the spaceship has not collected anything that Tuesday, the Osiris-Rex mission team will have to configure another attempt in January.
The ship attempted to collect a sample from a narrow patch of land north of Bennu. It descended slowly (four and a half hours) and passed towering rocks on the way. He used a kind of “reverse vacuum” to trap material from the surface. It is a 3.35 meter long arm with an annular collection chamber at the end.
The idea was to bring the ring closer to the surface. Then expel a stream of nitrogen gas to lift small pieces of rock. These would be locked in the collection chamber and take samples from the asteroid Bennu.
A few seconds later the ship departed. It remains to judge what exactly was collected by the asteroid.
Osisris-Rex took stunning photos during the descent. “These images will give us a lot of information,” said Professor Lauretta. “They will give us information about the likelihood of the sample being taken.” NASA published it yesterday.
Asteroids like Bennu formed in the early days of the solar system. They are basically the building blocks of the planets. As if they were a time capsule that can explain how the sun and planets evolved.
Bennu can really help us investigate how this process happened.