Oct 29, 2020 - Science

NASA spacecraft stows sample of asteroid to bring back to Earth

A side by side of osiris rex stowing its sample
A before (left) and after of OSIRIS-REx stowing its sample. Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tucked away a large sample of the asteroid Bennu for safe-keeping ahead of its eventual return to Earth.

Why it matters: Scientists on Earth plan to use the sample to unlock the secrets of how our solar system formed billions of years ago.

The intrigue: OSIRIS-REx nabbed what appeared to be a sizable sample from the asteroid on Oct. 20, but that sampling jammed up the spacecraft's machinery, allowing some of the material to escape into space.

  • That forced NASA to stow the sample before they were able to get an exact measurement of how much they actually collected.
  • Mission controllers successfully completed stowing the sample on Wednesday.
  • "We can visually confirm an estimated, approximately 400 grams of sample that we can see in the imaging data," Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator said during a press conference Thursday. (NASA wanted to collect at least 60 grams of material.)

What's next: The spacecraft is expected to start its journey back to Earth in March 2021, delivering the sample to waiting scientists in 2023.

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