UNITED STATES NEWS

NASA recovers asteroid samples in largest haul of material from beyond the moon

Sep 24, 2023, 9:30 AM

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. On Wedn...

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. On Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, scientists said they have a better handle on asteroid Bennu’s whereabouts for the next 200 years. The bad news is that the space rock has a slightly greater chance of clobbering Earth than previously thought. But don’t be alarmed: Scientists reported that the odds are still quite low that Bennu will hit us in the next century. (Conceptual Image Lab/Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA via AP, File)

(Conceptual Image Lab/Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA via AP, File)

NASA’s first asteroid samples fetched from deep space parachuted into the Utah desert Sunday to cap a seven-year journey.

In a flyby of Earth, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the sample capsule from 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) out. The small capsule landed four hours later on a remote expanse of military land, as the mothership set off after another asteroid.

“We have touchdown!” Mission Recovery Operations announced, immediately repeating the news since the landing occurred three minutes before anticipated. Officials later said the orange striped parachute opened four times higher than anticipated — around 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) — which led to the early touchdown.

Forty minutes later, the recovery team confirmed that the capsule was intact and had not been breached.

“It’s like ‘Wow!’” said NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who happened to be in Utah training for her own space capsule mission. “This is just amazing. It can go from the movies, but this is reality.”

Scientists estimate the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu, but won’t know for sure until the container is opened. Some spilled and floated away when the spacecraft scooped up too much and rocks jammed the container’s lid during collection three years ago.

Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions.

The pebbles and dust delivered Sunday represent the biggest haul from beyond the moon. Preserved building blocks from the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, the samples will help scientists better understand how Earth and life formed.

Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the $1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu two years later and, using a long stick vacuum, grabbed rubble from the small roundish space rock in 2020. By the time it returned, the spacecraft had logged 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).

Flight controllers for spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin stood and applauded at touchdown from their base in Colorado, ecstatic to have the precious samples on Earth. NASA camera views showed the charred capsule upside down on the sand with its parachute disconnected and strewn nearby, as the recovery team moved in.

NASA’s recovery effort in Utah included helicopters as well as a temporary clean room set up at the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range. The samples will be flown Monday morning to a new lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The building already houses the hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts more than a half-century ago.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, will accompany the samples to Texas. The opening of the container in Houston in the next day or two will be “the real moment of truth,” given the uncertainty over the amount inside, he said ahead of the landing.

Engineers estimate the canister holds 250 grams (8.82 ounces) of material from Bennu, plus or minus 100 grams (plus or minus 3.53 ounces). Even at the low end, it will easily surpass the minimum requirement of the mission, Lauretta said.

It will take a few weeks to get a precise measurement, said NASA’s lead curator Nicole Lunning.

NASA plans a public show-and-tell in October.

Currently orbiting the sun 50 million miles (81 million kilometers) from Earth, Bennu is about one-third of a mile (one-half of a kilometer) across, roughly the size of the Empire State Building but shaped like a spinning top. It’s believed to be the broken fragment of a much larger asteroid.

During a two-year survey, Osiris-Rex found Bennu to be a chunky rubble pile full of boulders and craters. The surface was so loose that the spacecraft’s vacuum arm sank a foot or two (0.5 meters) into the asteroid, sucking up more material than anticipated and jamming the lid.

These close-up observations may come in handy late in the next century. Bennu is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182 — possibly close enough to hit. The data gleaned by Osiris-Rex will help with any asteroid-deflection effort, according to Lauretta.

Osiris-Rex is already chasing after the asteroid Apophis, and will reach it in 2029.

This was NASA’s third sample return from a deep-space robotic mission. The Genesis spacecraft dropped off bits of solar wind in 2004, but the samples were compromised when the parachute failed and the capsule slammed into the ground. The Stardust spacecraft successfully delivered comet dust in 2006.

NASA’s plans to return samples from Mars are on hold after an independent review board criticized the cost and complexity. The Martian rover Perseverance has spent the past two years collecting core samples for eventual transport to Earth.

United States News

Associated Press

ConocoPhillips buying Marathon Oil for $17.1 billion in all-stock deal, plus $5.4 billion in debt

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion. The deal is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt. Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. As part of the transaction, Marathon Oil shareholders […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Stock market today: Wall Street points toward losses as markets digest earnings, dealmaking

Wall Street was poised to open with losses on Wednesday as some major dealmaking and a handful of earnings reports fill the news void until Friday’s latest inflation report. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average each tumbled 0.6% before the bell. ConocoPhillips said that it is buying Marathon Oil in […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Weather-weary Texas battered again as powerful storm, strong winds kill 1, cause widespread damage

HOUSTON (AP) — Power outages remained widespread Wednesday in storm-weary Texas a day after another burst of severe weather flooded streets, uprooted trees and ripped off roofs. Authorities said a teenager was killed at a construction site while working on a home that collapsed. The severe weather Tuesday, which at one point left more than […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Jury in Trump’s hush money case will begin deliberations after hearing instructions from judge

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors in Donald Trump’s hush money trial are expected to begin deliberations Wednesday after receiving instructions from the judge on the law and the factors they may consider as they strive to reach a verdict in the first criminal case against a former American president. The deliberations follow a marathon day […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Appeals court won’t halt upcoming Alabama execution

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday declined to halt the upcoming execution of an Alabama man convicted in the beating deaths of an elderly couple during a 2004 robbery. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied two separate requests for an execution stay for Jamie Ray Mills, 50. Mills is […]

10 hours ago

Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives to court during his trial for allegedly covering up ...

Associated Press

Trump prosecutor focuses on ‘cover-up’ in closing arguments while defense attacks key witness

Donald Trump engaged in “a conspiracy and a cover-up,” a prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday in the former president's hush money trial.

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

NASA recovers asteroid samples in largest haul of material from beyond the moon