August 1, 2021

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NASA collects samples from an asteroid

This is the first time NASA succeeds in making one of its spacecraft touch down on an asteroid

Image of the asteroid Bennu captured by NASA’s OSIRIS-REX probe. Photo: EFE / EPA / NASA / Goddard / Universisty of Arizona

Washington – The American Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrived on Tuesday at the asteroid Bennu and collected samples to return to Earth in 2023.

It is the first time that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has succeeded in making one of its spacecraft touch down on an asteroid.

Bennu is located more than 320 million kilometers from Earth and the spacecraft reached the asteroid after a journey of more than four years, since it was launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Osiris-Rex arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018 and began orbiting the asteroid on December 31, 2018.

Upon landing, the Osiris-Rex threw compressed nitrogen onto Bennu’s surface to kick up dust and gravel that the spacecraft should have collected.

NASA will not know until the next few days if the collection has been successful and the sample is enough (60 grams) to return the spacecraft to Earth or, if not, make a second attempt next January.

“This has been an incredible feat,” its associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said in a NASA statement.

“A piece,” he added, “of primordial rock that has witnessed the entire history of our solar system may now be ready to return home for generations of scientific discoveries, and we are eager to see what comes next.”

NASA noted in its statement that the asteroid Bennu “offers scientists a window into the early solar system, as it first began to take shape billions of years ago and sheds ingredients that could have helped sow life in Earth”.

If the mission is successful, in March 2021 – the next time Bennu aligns himself with Earth properly – the Osiris-Rex will make its return.

His parachute landing is scheduled for September 24, 2024 in the Utah desert.

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