NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is set to make a triumphant return to Earth, carrying a precious cargo of asteroid samples from Bennu. The asteroid, which has been deemed a potential security risk to Earth, holds a one-in-1,750 chance of impacting our planet in the late 22nd century.
On September 24, the spacecraft is scheduled to gracefully parachute into the Department of Defense’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where teams have diligently prepared for its arrival. Extensive practice sessions have been conducted to ensure the safe handling of the samples once they touch down on Earth. Recovery teams have taken into account various scenarios, such as finding the capsule upside down or in wet conditions.
To transport the capsule containing the asteroid samples, helicopters will be utilized, with the aim of safeguarding the precious cargo. The capsule will then be disassembled to access the science canister, the container holding the invaluable asteroid material.
There has been a slight hiccup in determining the exact mass of the samples due to a technical issue. However, estimates currently range from 5.26 to 12.34 ounces, highlighting the magnitude of this scientific achievement.
Once the samples have been securely transported, they will find themselves at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for extensive analysis. Dante Lauretta, the Principal Investigator of the mission, has been eagerly awaiting this moment for 20 years. With a 99% belief in the mission’s overall success, he expects to submit his first research paper on the samples by December.
This isn’t the end of the road for the OSIRIS-REx mission. In fact, it will continue under a new name, the OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer. In 2029, the spacecraft will turn its focus toward investigating asteroid Apophis. Lauretta will remain actively involved, serving as a lab scientist tasked with studying the Bennu samples.
The return of OSIRIS-REx signals a significant milestone for NASA and the scientific community alike. With the knowledge garnered from the Bennu samples, researchers hope to make strides in understanding the composition and history of asteroids, further expanding our understanding of the universe.