NASA Prepares To Receive Samples From Asteroid Bennu

NASA is to recover samples from an asteroid this year.


By: Tiger Deng, Journalist

Asteroid Bennu (101955 Bennu) was discovered by astronomers in 1999. On October 20, 2020, NASA’s OSIRIS- REx spacecraft touched down on its surface to collect samples of dust and rocks. The samples are from the early solar system. The organic molecules on Bennu could answer some questions on how life originated on Earth, says NASA.

Scientists are eagerly awaiting the return of the capsule, scheduled to land in the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023. Teams are already rehearsing the sample collection procedures, even though the mission is still months away.

If it is successful, it will be the first time the U.S. returns samples from an asteroid to Earth.

Protecting the Sample From Contamination

The safe return of the sample capsule is a critical part of this mission, as the capsule has to return safely through Earth’s atmosphere and stay uncontaminated by water or biological factors on Earth before it is examined. The capsule will parachute into the Utah desert. It will take 13 minutes to land the capsule.

The most urgent need is to protect the samples from heat, vibration, and earthly contaminants such as water or biological substances.

“A pristine could provide insights into the development of the solar system,” says Dr. Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA Goddard.

The teams in Colorado and Utah are working on steps to protect the samples and capsule after touchdown. They will analyze air and soil samples in the area to check for contamination. The materials will be stored at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The team their is also practicing their procedures. The sample is estimated to hold a cup of Bennu’s material. It will be split up and distributed among scientists for research.

NASA plans to launch a second mission to asteroid Apophis known as OSIRIS-APEX, which is scheduled to contact the asteroid in 2029.

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