- A capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has returned to Earth after an asteroid mission.
- The capsule carries samples, such as rocks, from asteroid Bennu.
- The samples are said to be thousands of years old and could help uncover some of the mysteries of the universe.
After touchdown, the capsule laid nose-down on the sandy floor of the Utah desert, a red-and-white parachute that slowed its high-speed descent resting just feet away after detaching.
“It wasn’t mission impossible, it was the impossible became possible,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video message shortly after the landing.
Three members of NASA prepare the sample return capsule for transport shortly after it touched down in the desert at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. Source: EPA / NASA/Keegan Barber HANDOUT
Like other asteroids, Bennu is a relic of the early solar system. Because its present-day chemistry and mineralogy are virtually unchanged since forming some 4.5 billion years ago, it holds valuable clues to the origins and development of rocky planets such as Earth.
Samples returned three years ago by the Japanese mission Hayabusa2 from Ryugu, another near-Earth asteroid, were found to contain two organic compounds, buttressing the hypothesis that celestial objects such as comets, asteroids and meteorites that bombarded early Earth seeded the young planet with the primordial ingredients for life.
OSIRIS-REx’s long journey
The spacecraft departed Bennu in May 2021 for a 1.9 billion km cruise back to Earth, including two orbits around the sun.
The Bennu sample has been estimated at 250 grams, far surpassing the five grams carried back from Ryugu in 2020 or the tiny specimen delivered from asteroid Itokawa in 2010. But the amount of material delivered on Sunday will not be more precisely quantified for at least a week.