Scientists said on Friday that a NASA spacecraft was filled with so much asteroid debris from this week’s haze that these uncovered and precious particles are going away.
Three days later, scientists announced the news that a spacecraft named Osiris-Rex touched the asteroid Bennu from 200 m miles away.
The mission’s chief scientist, Dante Loretta, said Tuesday’s operation collected far more material than he had expected to return to Earth – in hundreds of grams. At the end of the robot arm the sample container penetrated the asteroid so deeply and with such force, however, the rocks were sucked in and wired around the rim of the lid.
The team was splurging early Tuesday to put the sample container into the return capsule. The particles are continuously precipitated, and scientists want to minimize the damage.
“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s head of science missions.
A cloud of asteroid particles can be seen revolving around the spacecraft as it supports at least one-half ounce (5 to 10 grams) from Bennu at any given time. According to Loretta, the situation appeared to be stable, once the robot’s hand stopped moving and was locked in place.
Orris-Rex – NASA’s first asteroid sampling return mission, totaling more than $ 800m – required at least 2 ounces (60 g) of samples to be returned. Carbon-rich material holds the protected building blocks of our solar system and can help scientists better understand how planets formed and how life originated on Earth.
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft reached Bennu in 2018. Despite what is on board, it will leave the area around the asteroid in March. The specimens will not return to Earth until 2023.
Due back in December, Japan is waiting for a second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid.