NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is set to achieve a significant milestone this Sunday as it drops off rock samples from asteroid Bennu, marking the agency’s first-ever attempt to retrieve a piece of a pure space rock. This momentous event has been seven years in the making and is scheduled for September 24 at 10:55 a.m. ET.
The highly-anticipated drop-off will take place during a close flyby of Earth, with viewers able to witness the historic moment live through NASA TV, the NASA app, or the agency’s website starting at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday. The spacecraft will release a capsule containing the precious asteroid sample, which will then perform a parachute-assisted landing at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range.
The journey of OSIRIS-REx began in September 2016 when it was launched into space. It reached asteroid Bennu in December 2018 and made history by collecting a sample from its surface in October 2020. This remarkable feat was achieved through the spacecraft’s Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), which gently tapped the surface of the asteroid and captured rocks and dust in a specially-designed collector.
Now, with the sample safely secured in its capsule, scientists are eager to analyze it on Earth. By studying the asteroid material, they hope to unlock valuable insights into the origins of life on our planet. There is a possibility that asteroids like Bennu may have carried the building blocks of life, offering clues about how life began on Earth.
Once the sample is delivered, OSIRIS-REx will embark on its next mission, exploring another asteroid named Apophis. As it begins this new chapter, the spacecraft will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX.
The achievements of OSIRIS-REx represent a significant milestone in space exploration and a testament to human ingenuity and persistence. With each mission, scientists get one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of our universe and understanding our place within it. As the world eagerly awaits the drop-off and the subsequent analysis of the asteroid sample, the future of space exploration shines brighter than ever before.
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