NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Historic Mission, Bringing Asteroid Bennu’s Soil to Earth

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NASA has announced the successful completion of its mission to bring soil samples from the asteroid Bennu back to Earth. This achievement marks the first time in history that the United States has successfully collected and returned material from an asteroid.

The capsule containing the precious soil samples touched down at the Utah Test and Training Range, a U.S. Department of Defense facility, at 10:52 AM local time (17:52 GMT). Just minutes prior, the capsule had separated from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and entered Earth’s atmosphere off the coast of California. The smaller of the two parachutes deployed shortly after entering the atmosphere to stabilize the capsule, with the main parachute deploying at 17:47 GMT. This allowed the capsule’s descent speed to decrease from hypersonic to roughly 18 km/h by the time it landed.

To briefly recap, NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, with a budget of $1 billion, commenced in 2016 with the launch of the spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft was on a mission to study the potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid Bennu, which boasts a diameter of around 500 meters. It reached Bennu in December 2018 and spent the following 22 months extensively studying the celestial body.

In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx made a daring touchdown on Bennu’s surface and collected approximately 250 grams of soil samples. The exact quantity of gathered material will only be known after experts analyze the recently landed capsule. The capsule will soon be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it will be securely stored. Researchers from around the world will have the opportunity to study these asteroid soil samples, contributing to our understanding of the early stages of our solar system’s existence.

Asteroids are considered the fossils of the solar system, remnants of its early days before planets formed. The examination of Bennu’s soil samples may provide invaluable insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system. Additionally, it could potentially offer evidence supporting the theory of panspermia, which suggests that life on Earth may have been seeded from space.

Meanwhile, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will continue its scientific endeavors. Its next target is the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis. If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft will reach Apophis in 2029 and conduct an 18-month-long investigation of the asteroid.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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