NASA's OSIRIS-REx successfully collected bits of an orbiting asteroid

Image of the NASA space explorer OSIRIS-REx touching down on the asteroid Bennu

If the team determines the collection process a success, the next step is to bring the sample to Earth for scientific analysis. To decide whether that objective has been met, in the coming hours Osiris-Rex will move to a protected position and afterward move its arm into position to take photographs of the authority head and gauge how much mass exists in.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference. If successful, Osiris-Rex will return samples in 2023. The arm will collect a sample between 2 bac and 2 kg before returning from safety.

On Tuesday, the spacecraft, which is the size of a 15-passenger van, touched down on Bennu's surface briefly by extending its robotic arm to a rocky site surrounded by building-sized boulders, according to NASA.

If Osiris-Rex successfully comes home in September 2023, it will have collected the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

"We'll only be kissing the surface with a short touch-and-go measured in just seconds", said the University of Arizona's Heather Enos, the deputy scientist for the mission.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft - an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer - is set to attempt a touch-and-go sample collection on the asteroid Bennu later Tuesday afternoon. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the Touch and Go maneuver.

It promised to be the most harrowing part of the mission, which began with a launch from Cape Canaveral back in 2016.

After determining that the coast was clear, Osiris-Rex closed in the last few yards for sampling.

The plan called for Osiris-Rex to shoot out pressurized nitrogen gas to stir up the surface, then suck up any loose pebbles or dust.

Because Bennu is believed to have formed in the first 10 million years of our solar system's existence - over 4.5 billion years ago - scientists hope that collected samples could unlock the mysteries about how it came to be, and even tell us more about the origins of life.

Bennu was named in 2013 by a nine-year-old boy from North Carolina who won the Name that Asteroid! competition, a collaboration between the mission, the Planetary Society, and the LINEAR asteroid survey that discovered Bennu.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said this was "an incredible feat".

Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator. OSIRIS-REx engineers also confirmed that shortly after the spacecraft made contact with the surface, it fired its thrusters and safely backed away from Bennu. The team will use several techniques to identify and measure the sample remotely today, October 21st, otherwise, the mission will have to try again. The sample capsule will parachute into the Utah desert.

"This will be another important day for us".

All spacecraft telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected. Bennu has been (mostly) undisturbed for billions of years.



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