NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission reached a significant milestone as the spacecraft’s asteroid-sample canister was opened for the first time in over seven years. This exciting development occurred at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, where scientists unveiled the canister’s contents, shedding light on the precious cargo from the asteroid Bennu.
After a long and daring journey, OSIRIS-REx’s return capsule touched down in the Utah desert. Just two days later, on September 26, scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center initiated the delicate process of opening the canister’s outer lid. The moment was described as breathtaking, with NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) division, based at JSC, capturing the excitement with a post on X (formerly Twitter).
Upon opening the canister, researchers were greeted with a revelation – “dark powder and sand-sized particles on the inside of the lid and base.” This material had once resided on the surface of Bennu, the primary target of the OSIRIS-REx mission.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, which began in September 2016, saw the spacecraft travel to Bennu, a 1,650-foot-wide asteroid, arriving in December 2018. In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx successfully collected a substantial sample from Bennu using its Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).
The collected asteroid material was safely transported to Utah within OSIRIS-REx’s return capsule on September 24 and then airlifted to Houston on September 25. At Johnson Space Center, this valuable sample will be carefully stored and curated. The dedicated team will oversee the distribution of this unique material to scientists worldwide.
In the coming decades, researchers will meticulously study the sample, aiming to gain insights into the formation and early evolution of our solar system. Moreover, they seek to understand the potential role carbon-rich asteroids like Bennu may have played in seeding Earth with the fundamental building blocks of life.
However, the detailed examination of the main asteroid sample is yet to commence. This process necessitates the intricate disassembly of the TAGSAM apparatus, which will demand a considerable amount of time and precision. JSC officials emphasized the team’s unwavering commitment to ensuring that the sample remains intact and uncontaminated during this critical phase.
In a forthcoming event that promises to captivate space enthusiasts and scientists alike, NASA will reveal the Bennu sample on October 11 at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT). This momentous unveiling will be broadcast during a webcast event accessible on Space.com, marking another chapter in our exploration of the cosmos.