OSIRIS-REx weighs 4,650 pounds (or 2,110 kg). On September 8th of 2016, NASA first launched the spacecraft on its 3.8-billion mile mission to land on an asteroid and retrieve a sample.
That sample has just returned.
Throughout Sunday morning, NASA tweeted historic updates from the sample’s landing site in Utah. “We’ve spotted the #OSIRISREx capsule on the ground,” they announced about 80 minutes ago (including a 23-second video clip). “The parachute has separated, and the helicopters are arriving at the site. We’re ready to recover that sample!”
UPI notes that the capsule “reached temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry, so protective masks and gloves are required to handle it,” describing its payload as “a 250-gram dust sample.”
15 minutes later NASA shared footage of “the first persons to come into contact with this hardware since it was on the other side of the solar system.” A recovery team approached the capsule to perform an environmental safety sweep confirming there were no hazardous gas.
“The impossible became possible,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. The Guardian reports he confirmed the capsule “brought something extraordinary — the largest asteroid sample ever received on Earth.
“It’s going to help scientists investigate planet formation, it’s going to improve our understanding of the asteroids that could possibly impact the earth and it will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation.”
“This mission proves that NASA does big things, things that have inspired us, things that unite us…
“The mission continues with incredible science and analysis to come. But I want to thank you all, for everybody that made this Osiris-Rex mission possible.”
Professor Neil Bowles of the University of Oxford, one of the scientists who will study the sample, told the Guardian that he was excited to see the sample heading to the clean room at Johnson Space Center. “So much new science to come!”
And that 4,650-pound spacecraft is still hurtling through space. 20 minutes after delivering its sample, the craft ” fired its engines to divert past Earth toward its new mission to asteroid Apophis,” NASA reports. The name of its new mission? OSIRIS-APEX. Roughly 1,000 feet wide, Apophis will come within 20,000 miles of Earth — less than one-tenth the distance between Earth and the Moon — in 2029. OSIRIS-APEX is scheduled to enter orbit of Apophis soon after the asteroid’s close approach of Earth to see how the encounter affected the asteroid’s orbit, spin rate, and surface.
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