(ORDO NEWS) — The NASA space agency reported that the OSIRIS-Rex probe successfully completed its task, namely, it collected soil samples from the surface of an asteroid hundreds of millions of kilometers from Earth.
Now, NASA’s main goal is to deliver a sample from the surface to Earth for further study. Scientists hope that by examining a sample of an intact asteroid, they will gain insight into the early solar system billions of years ago.
According to the agency’s scientists, such an understanding could provide researchers with clues to exactly what ingredients allowed life to begin on Earth.
This is the first such case in NASA history. The European Space Agency (ESA) already landed a probe on a comet in 2014, this was the first time in the history of astronautics, but their mission did not provide for the return of the device to Earth.
The head of NASA Jim Bridenstine shared his impressions:
“This achievement demonstrates what an incredible work has been done by a group of people from all over the country. All just to expand the boundaries of knowledge. Our industrial, academic and international partners have done everything possible to ensure that we can hold in our hands a piece of the ancient solar system. ”
The landing was carried out by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which used a robotic arm to collect soil samples from the surface of an ancient asteroid known as Bennu. The asteroid is currently over 300 million kilometers from Earth – roughly double the distance from Earth to the Sun.
Scientists have carefully mapped the asteroid’s surface and planned painstaking maneuvers in advance, according to a NASA press release. OSIRIS-REx had to approach Benn carefully, inflicting a series of small, controlled burns from its engines.
It took the spacecraft hours to descend hundreds of meters before moving more precisely to the location where the desired sample was to be collected – one of the few with no debris.
Everything turned out to be not so simple. At some point, the probe narrowly escaped a collision with a boulder the size of a two-story building, which was a real surprise for NASA specialists.
In the end, the spacecraft managed to collect a surface sample with a robotic arm using the so-called “Touch-And-Go Sample Collection Mechanism” or TAGSAM. The process lasted only a few seconds.
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