Precious Cargo from Space Approaches Earth
In the remote expanse of Utah’s West Desert, a dedicated team led by NASA is entering the final stages of preparation for an extraordinary event – the imminent arrival of the first U.S. asteroid sample on Earth. Scheduled to touch down this September, this mission heralds a remarkable milestone in space exploration.
Mockup Test Paves the Way
In a pivotal test event, a mockup of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer) sample capsule was carefully dropped from an aircraft, finding its precise mark at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range.
This significant maneuver stands as the mission’s final major trial before the actual capsule, housing a sample of asteroid Bennu, descends to Earth on September 24.
A Glimpse into Cosmic History
As the countdown continues, Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, emphasized the significance of this endeavor:
“We are mere weeks away from welcoming a piece of solar system history to our planet. The success of this drop test underscores our readiness to receive pristine material from asteroid Bennu, offering insights into the formation of our solar system and the origins of life on Earth.”
Meticulous Preparation Unveiled
The path leading to this defining moment was paved with meticulous preparation. The OSIRIS-REx team undertook a series of rehearsals, encompassing capsule recovery, spacecraft engineering operations, and sample curation procedures, in the preceding spring and summer months. With just under four weeks remaining until the spacecraft’s touchdown, the team stands poised and prepared for the delivery that awaits.
A Journey’s Culmination
Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, expressed his pride in the team’s tireless dedication, stating, “Our meticulous planning and rehearsals have not only prepared us to collect a sample from Bennu but have also honed our skills for sample recovery.”
Unlocking Cosmic Secrets
Within the capsule lies a treasure trove – an estimated 8.8 ounces of rocky material gathered from the surface of asteroid Bennu back in 2020. In the coming years, researchers will meticulously study this sample, unlocking insights into the origins of our planet and solar system, as well as the organics that might have contributed to life’s emergence on Earth.
The Moment of Arrival
At 8:42 a.m. MDT (10:42 a.m. EDT), the capsule will pierce Earth’s atmosphere, hurtling at approximately 27,650 mph. NASA’s coverage of the landing commences at 10 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. MDT), available for viewing on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.
Culminating Emotions and Focus
Rich Burns, project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, likened the mission’s current phase to the final stretch of a marathon, marked by a blend of pride, joy, and unwavering determination.
The Journey’s Continuation
Post-landing, the capsule’s journey continues. The team will transport it to a temporary clean room on the military range, where they will undertake initial processing and disassembly. Afterward, they will convey it by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. At this location, experts will document, preserve, and distribute the sample for global analysis by scientists.
An Expansive Collaboration
The vast endeavor involves collaborative efforts. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, oversees mission management, engineering, and safety. Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona leads the science team and mission’s observation planning.
Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, crafted the spacecraft and manages flight operations. Curation for OSIRIS-REx takes place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. International partnerships include CSA’s OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter instrument and science collaboration with JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission.
In a culmination of efforts, OSIRIS-REx embodies the pioneering spirit of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, overseen by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, with its impact felt globally.