A NASA space capsule carrying rock samples taken from the asteroid’s surface three years ago hurtled through Earth’s atmosphere this weekend, landing by parachute in the Utah desert on Sunday.
Weather forecasts are favorable and the Osiris-Rex robotic spacecraft is on track to release its sample return capsule for its final descent as scheduled, with no need for any further adjustments to its flight path, NASA officials said at a press conference Friday. Ta.
Mission managers planned a “spot-on” touchdown at the military’s vast Utah Test and Training Range west of Salt Lake City, said Sandra Freund, a program manager at Lockheed Martin, which designed and built the spacecraft. He says he is looking forward to it.
The round, gumdrop-shaped capsule is scheduled to land by parachute at 10:55 a.m. EDT (14:55 GMT), about 13 minutes after hitting the top of the atmosphere at about 35 times the speed of sound. Finished a 7 year voyage. .
If successful, the OSIRIS-REx mission, a collaboration between NASA and scientists from the University of Arizona, will be the third mission ever returned to Earth for analysis, following two similar missions by the Japanese space agency. This will be the largest asteroid sample to date. Over the past 13 years.
OSIRIS-REx collected specimens from Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid discovered in 1999. This asteroid is classified as a “near-Earth object” because it passes relatively close to Earth every six years. Scientists estimate that the chance of a collision with Earth in the second half of the 22nd century is 1 in 2,700.
Bennu is small for an asteroid, at just 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter, slightly wider than the height of the Empire State Building, but it crashed into Earth about 66 million years ago, causing the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs. It is small compared to the Chicxulub asteroid.
Like other asteroids, Bennu is a primordial relic of the early Solar System, and its current chemistry and mineralogy have changed little since its formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Therefore, they hold valuable clues about the origin and development of rocky planets like Earth, and may even contain organic molecules similar to those needed for the evolution of life.
“We’re literally looking at geological materials that were formed before the Earth existed,” Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told reporters last month.
OSIRIS-REx was launched in September 2016, arrived at Bennu in 2018, then spent about two years in orbit around the asteroid, and on October 20, 2020, the robot arm was released in a grab-and-go operation. I got close enough to sink to the surface.
The spacecraft departed on a 1.2 billion mile voyage back to Earth in May 2021.
Bennu’s sample is estimated at 250 grams (8.8 ounces), far exceeding the amount of material returned from asteroid Ryugu in 2020 and Itokawa in 2010.
Upon arrival, the new samples were taken by helicopter to a “clean room” set up at a test site in Utah for initial testing, and then transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where about 200 U.S. scientists divided into smaller specimens as promised. 60 laboratories around the world.
Meanwhile, the main part of the OSIRIS-REX spacecraft is expected to sail to explore another asteroid closer to Earth.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)