The photograph shows the Bennu Crescent with one of its sides merging with the dark space as the OSIRIS-REx moved away from Bennu. For two years, the spacecraft studied the asteroid and revealed several secrets of this ancient body.
It also helped better understand its rubble-pile-like consistency and surface terrain. NASA, in a note on its website, says the asteroid’s terrain turned out to be much rockier and rougher than initially expected based on telescope observations on the ground.
The spacecraft, which embarked on its return trip on May 10, 2021, is expected to drop the sealed capsule containing the sample and send it on a path to land in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. It is carrying more. of 60 grams of dust and fragments of the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA from the rocks of the Moon brought back by the Apollo missions.
To achieve this goal, the US space agency launched a high-risk operation in October 2020: the probe made contact with the asteroid for a few seconds, and an explosion of compressed nitrogen was emitted to lift the sample. of dust which was then captured.
The surprise for NASA was that the probe’s arm sank several inches into the asteroid’s surface, showing scientists that “the surfaces of these rubble-pile asteroids are very weakly consolidated,” said Dante Lauretta, chief of the mission, during the NASA video broadcast as the spacecraft began its return journey.
The whole mission nearly failed when NASA realized a few days later that the valve in the collection compartment was not closing, letting fragments escape into space.
But the precious cargo was eventually secured after being transferred to a capsule attached to the center of the spacecraft.
NASA said the samples will be transported to its Johnson Space Center in Houston, from where they will be distributed to laboratories around the world for scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. .
Not only that, the ace space agency also decided to preserve 75% of the sample and keep it for future generations, who can study it using technologies yet to be invented or developed.