Seven-year space mission yields asteroid samples that landed in Utah’s desert

Sep 24, 2023, 10:59 PM | Updated: Oct 11, 2023, 10:42 am

DUGWAY — For the teams that landed a spacecraft on an asteroid and brought pieces of it back to Earth, this seven-year mission was only the beginning.

At 8:52 a.m. on Sunday, a parachute attached to a capsule opened, and a crew of scientists breathed a sigh of relief. The capsule had been dropped from a spacecraft called the OSIRIS-REx. The craft dropped the capsule over the Earth all the way from outer space, where it collected samples from an asteroid called Bennu. The mission lasted seven years and spanned almost a half-billion miles.

Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator, says the landing was so perfect it was sitting even on.

“It went absolutely perfectly. Absolute perfect landing. We stuck it, we didn’t move. We landed in nice soft soil,” Lauretta said.

After the capsule landed, the surrounding ground was checked for safety and NASA’s recovery team took readings for gas, radiation, and other possible concerns.

The all-clear was given to bring that capsule to a clean room at Dugway, where it will be held until it can be transported to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There it will be opened and studied.

“Those are going to be a treasure for scientific analysis for years and years and years to come,” said NASA Planetary Science Director Lori Glaze.

The cameras installed on OSIRIS-REx were designed by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. They were used to see where to land on the asteroid.

The president of the USU lab, Dr. Jed Hancock, celebrated the cameras his teams and students created by calling it a “mission success.”

“The detectors, the electronics that bring all the information back to planet Earth (help us) to make the most important scientific decisions about where to sample and if the sample was collected properly,” Hancock said.

The mission overall was calculated and pursued to understand the origin of our solar system and perhaps how life started here. But it was also meant to find out what this asteroid is made of.

Scientists are eager to start studying, but for now, continue to celebrate the success and ingenuity of a mission that wouldn’t have been possible even just 100 years ago.

The spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is continuing on to another asteroid called Apophis for a 2029 rendevous. The cameras pioneered by USU will be used in that mission as well.

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Seven-year space mission yields asteroid samples that landed in Utah’s desert