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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission recently accomplished a historic feat by successfully landing a capsule containing rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu.

The capsule was landed in a targeted area of the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City. (Photo credits:
NASA/Keegan Barber).

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The goal of this mission is to help scientists worldwide make discoveries that will help us better understand planet formation, the origin of organics and water that led to life on Earth, and potential hazards presented by asteroids.

The sample collected from Bennu will be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, still in its unopened canister by aircraft.

The OSIRIS-REx team’s most critical task was getting the sample under a “nitrogen purge” to remove earthly contaminants and leave the selection pure for scientific analyses.

The nitrogen purge connected the capsule to a continuous flow of nitrogen, a gas that doesn’t interact with most other chemicals.

The Bennu sample, estimated to be 8.8 ounces (250 grams), will be transported in its unopened canister by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday, September 25th.

Curation scientists there will disassemble the canister, extract and weigh the sample, create an inventory of the rocks and dust, and distribute pieces of Bennu to scientists worldwide over time.

After traveling billions of miles to Bennu and back, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released its sample capsule toward Earth’s atmosphere.

The capsule pierced the atmosphere off the coast of California at an altitude of about 83 miles (133 kilometers), traveling at 27,650 mph (44,500 kph). Within 10 minutes, it landed on the military range.

The recovery team found the capsule in good shape and then determined it was safe to approach. Within 70 minutes, they wrapped it up for safe transport to a temporary clean room on the range, where it remains under continuous supervision and a nitrogen purge.

NASA Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona, Tucson, leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing.

Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Curation for OSIRIS-REx, including processing the sample when it arrives on Earth, will take place at NASA Johnson.

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