NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission lands safely in Utah
After a two-and-a-half-year astral trek and seven years since lift off, asteroid samples from NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer OS(IRIS-REx) have been brought down to Earth.
On Sunday at 10:52 am EDT, the sample return capsule carrying 8.8 ounces (250 g) of rock and soil samples from the asteroid Bennu made a safe parachute touchdown at the US Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range 80 miles (129 km) southwest of Salt Lake City.
Because of the fear that the capsule might have been compromised on impact and the Earth's atmosphere might start to seep in and contaminate the sample, a recovery crew rushed in as part of a well-rehearsed effort. Within an hour and a half, the capsule was picked up by helicopter and transported to a temporary field clean room unit in a hangar. There it was subjected to a nitrogen purge, which involves introducing a continuous flow of the inert gas into the capsule to flush away any potential contamination.
Launched on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida atop an Atlas V launch vehicle, OSIRIS-REx was the first American attempt to return samples from an asteroid. On December 3, 2018, the spacecraft arrived at the 490-m (1,610-ft) diameter asteroid 101955 Bennu. On October 20, 2020, after an extensive survey, OSIRIS-REx made a touch-and-go landing on the asteroid when the craft's sample arm took aboard its scientific cargo.
On May 10, 2021, the sample return capsule was sent toward Earth while the main spacecraft went into orbit around the Sun.
According to NASA, the unopened canister will be transferred to an aircraft and flown to the space agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday.
"Congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team on a picture-perfect mission – the first American asteroid sample return in history – which will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. "Not to mention, Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, and what we learn from the sample will help us better understand the types of asteroids that could come our way. With OSIRIS-REx, Psyche launch (sic) in a couple of weeks, DART’s one year anniversary, and Lucy’s first asteroid approach in November, Asteroid Autumn is in full swing. These missions prove once again that NASA does big things. Things that inspire us and unite us. Things that show nothing is beyond our reach when we work together."
The video below recaps the historic landing.