NASA’s spacecraft Osiris-Rex has finally returned to Earth after collecting specimens from the most dangerous known rock in the Solar System, the asteroid Bennu. Over the past five years, the stunning feat of engineering, scientific excellence, and steadfast commitment of NASA made this mission a success.
This mission marks a remarkable milestone in the understanding of our solar system formation and how these objects can prove to be a threat to the Earth.
In September of 2016, Osiris-Rex was launched with its target being Bennu, a 500-meter-wide carbonaceous asteroid due to its status as a primitive object and the threat it poses of colliding with Earth in the year 2182.
It is believed that the asteroid is rich in carbon and other organic molecules and can also help uncover the secrets of the formation of the Solar System that happened 4.6 billion years ago.
In October 2020, the spacecraft finally made its descent within meters of Bennu’s surface. The engineering marvel known as TAGSAM, a robotic arm-like device, extended itself and made contact collecting about 250g of material whereas the expected amount was 60g.
The touch-and-go operation barely lasted for merely seconds, but it represented the efforts and years of planning to produce such a precise result.
The capsule with the sample reached Earth’s surface on 25th September, three minutes earlier than expected arrival.
It landed on desert land belonging to the Department of Defense. The container came tearing down the Earth’s atmosphere at the speed of 12km/s (27,000mph) covered in a heatshield, but the parachutes were able to slow down its descent making a smooth drop.
The biggest concern for the scientist was to keep the sample clean and safe from Earth’s chemistry as if it contains carbon compounds then it can cause issues during testing.
On its arrival, the scientists were quick to take the container to a temporary clean room at the nearby Dugway army base. Later it will be transported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where scientists will carefully analyze its contents.
In the space center, once the capsule is opened, the first team will try to extract the dust to perform top-line experimentation and research.
It is planned that a quarter of the particle will be distributed around the world to scientists who will conduct their research on it and present their findings.
The whole purpose of this mission is to gather enough data from asteroid Bennu that can help in achieving a better understanding of planetary defense.
A good understanding of its structure, composition, and behavior can produce strategies for detecting potential threats and how to counter them. This will safeguard Earth from any form of catastrophic cosmic collisions.
According to NASA, on 11th October a press conference will be held to brief on the subject. This whole journey represents the spirit and determination of humans who put in their all efforts to explore space and its secrets.