NASA captures its first asteroid sample in OSIRIS-REx landing

25 Sep 2023

The NASA OSIRIS-REx capsule. Image: NASA/Keegan Barber

The seven-year mission has given NASA an asteroid sample, which could help us learn more about potentially hazardous asteroids and the origin of organics and water on Earth.

NASA has managed to collect its first ever asteroid sample, after its OSIRIS-REx capsule successfully landed on Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx mission began in 2016, when the spacecraft began its journey to map and analyse the asteroid Bennu. This is one of many large near-Earth asteroids that are categorised as being a potential Earth impactor.

The seven-year mission ended yesterday (24 September) when the OSIRIS-REx capsule landed in the US, carrying rocks and dust collected from the asteroid.

This capsule was transported to a temporary clean room to be flooded with a continuous flow of nitrogen. NASA said the nitrogen flow will keep out earthly contaminants to ensure the asteroid sample remains pure for scientific analysis.

It is hoped this sample will teach scientists more about potentially hazardous asteroids. The samples could also reveal more about planet formation and the origin of organics such as water that led to life on Earth.

Prof Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission, described the result as a milestone for science “as a whole” and a testament to “what we can accomplish when we unite with a common purpose”.

“But let’s not forget – while this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it’s truly just the beginning of another,” Lauretta said. “We now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyse these samples and delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.”

NASA is planning more asteroid-related missions, such as Psyche which aims to reach an asteroid that is orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. This spacecraft is expected to launch next month.

It is also one year since NASA successfully tested its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which managed to alter the orbit of an asteroid by smashing into it at high speed.

“These missions prove once again that NASA does big things,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “Things that inspire us and unite us. Things that show nothing is beyond our reach when we work together.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic