NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has returned to Earth after seven years. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was the first U.S. probe ever to take a sample from an asteroid named Bennu and return to Earth with it. The only other country to do so was Japan in 2010, however, it was only able to bring about 5g back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was able to bring a whopping 250g back. Even after being back on Earth for about two weeks, NASA still hasn’t released the sample for research because the probe returned with more material than expected. NASA had planned a livestream at 9 AM on October 11, for the official reveal of the samples from OSIRIS-REx. They found Bennu to be rich in water and carbon. The rocket launched on September 8, 2016, and only returned two weeks ago on Sept. 24, 2023, just over seven years since launch. As the OSIRIS-REx probe passed by Earth about 63,000 miles from Earth’s surface, about ⅓ the distance to the moon, it released the capsule containing the asteroid sample pushing it toward Earth. The capsule then rocketed toward Earth at 27,650 mph and entered the atmosphere at 8:42 AM. The capsule landed at The Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City at 8:52 AM. During the landing, the two parachutes deployed slowing the capsule to about 11 mph as it touched the ground. Radar, infrared, and optical instruments in the air and on the ground tracked the capsule in its descent and were able to pinpoint its exact landing location. Within a few minutes of landing the recovery team was released to its location for inspection and retrieval. In only about 70 minutes of landing the recovery team determined that the capsule was in good condition and ready for transportation. It was then wrapped up and taken to a temporary clean room on the Range. The next day, September 25th, the sample of Bennu was sent in its unopened container to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scientists there will then remove the contents of Bennu from its container, weigh them, sort them, and then distribute the sample to scientists worldwide. Of the 250 grams of material, 25% will be given to the 233 scientists on the OSIRIS-REx team who represent 38 institutions globally, 4% will go to the Canadian space agency, 0.5% will go to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the rest, 70.5%, will be kept at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for scientist outside of the mission. NASA said they decided to study Bennu for three reasons. First, Bennu was formed at the same time that Earth and the rest of the solar system was, but the evidence of Earth's formation was wiped away by weather, erosion, and plate tectonics. NASA is hoping to get some insight into Earth's formation 4.5 billion years ago by studying Bennu. Second, Bennu contains the compounds that make up all known life. There is some evidence that suggests that asteroids with those types of compounds delivered them to Earth when they smashed into it billions of years ago. Scientists hope to learn more about this early period and the beginnings of life on Earth from this asteroid. Finally, most of the asteroids in our solar system are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Bennu is an exception; its orbit crosses Earth's orbit making it much easier to get to and research. Even though Bennu is orbiting very close to Earth, NASA says it has no chance of hitting Earth until at least the mid-22nd century. After that, it is a 1 in 1750 chance until about 2300. Now that the sample is on Earth the OSIRIS_REx spacecraft has a new mission, it is headed to explore the asteroid Apophis, which it is planned to reach by 2029.
“OSIRIS-Rex Faqs - Nasa Science.” NASA. Accessed October 11, 2023. https://science.nasa.gov/mission/osiris-rex/osiris-rex-faq/.
Wall, Mike. “NASA Revealing OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Sample Today: Watch It Live.” Space.com, October 11, 2023. https://www.space.com/nasa-osiris-rex-asteroid-sample-reveal-webcast.
Owen Dustin is a sophomore at Poudre High School. This is his first year writing for the Poudre Press. At school, he is on the Alpine Robotics team and the unified flag football team. Outside of school he likes to mountain bike, play video games, and hang out with friends.