NASA recently conducted a rehearsal capsule recovery test of its Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) capsule in preparation for the real capsule’s arrival from asteroid Bennu, which is scheduled to occur on September 24 in the Utah Desert. This comes after OSIRIS-REx successfully gathered samples from Bennu over three years ago, marking the first time a U.S. mission has collected samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth, which scientists hope will help them gain greater insights into the formation of the solar system.
Image of a drop test conducted at the Department of Defense's Utah Test and Training Range on Aug 30, 2023, in preparation for the retrieval of the sample NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission return capsule from asteroid Bennu. (Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber)
“We are now mere weeks away from receiving a piece of solar system history on Earth, and this successful drop test ensures we’re ready,” Dr. Nicola Fox, who is the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington DC, said in an official NASA statement. “Pristine material from asteroid Bennu will help shed light on the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, and perhaps even on how life on Earth began.”
For the test, a NASA-led team rehearsed recovering a mock sample capsule that landed within the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, which resides just outside Salt Lake City, after being dropped from an airplane. This follows a series of previous rehearsals aimed at perfecting recovery efforts to ensure the samples are preserved for scientific analysis later.
“We are now in the final leg of this seven-year journey, and it feels very much like the last few miles of a marathon, with a confluence of emotions like pride and joy coexisting with a determined focus to complete the race well,” Rich Burns, who is the project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in an official NASA statement.
Launched on September 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx successfully entered orbit around asteroid Bennu on in December 2018, followed by conducting a successful sample collection on October 20, 2020. As noted, this marks the first U.S. mission to collect samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth, which follows in the footsteps of the Japanese Hayabusa probe returning samples to Earth from asteroid Itokawa in 2010 and the Hayabusa2 probe returning samples to Earth from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.
What will these samples from Bennu teach us about the history of the solar system in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!