Last month, a NASA capsule landed in the Utah desert in the US, carrying the largest asteroid sample ever collected to Earth. On October 11, NASA unveiled to the world a sample of the asteroid Bennu for the first time. Scientists hope this will provide clues about the early days of the solar system and perhaps the origins of life itself. So far, the team has removed and collected 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of rocks and dust from the sampler’s hardware. According to NASA, the sample exceeds the mission’s goal of collecting 60 grams of debris from the asteroid.
There are more samples to collect, but the team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) is currently struggling to open the canister.
Last week, the OSIRIS-REx mission team struggled to open the TAGSAM head, which contained much of the rock and dust collected by the rover in 2020.
After multiple removal attempts, the team discovered that two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head could not be removed using the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team has been working to develop and implement a new approach to extracting the material within the head while keeping the sample safe and in pristine condition. ” NASA wrote in a blog post.
The team will spend the next few weeks processing the material collected this week while developing and implementing new procedures to remove remaining asteroid samples from the TAGSAM sampler head.
“All curation work on samples and TAGSAM heads is performed in a special glovebox under nitrogen flow to prevent exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere, preserving the original state of the samples for subsequent scientific analysis. The tools of the proposed solution to extract residual material from the head must fit inside the glovebox and must be capable of compromising the scientific integrity of the collection, and any procedure must be carried out in a clean room. must be consistent with standards,” NASA added.
OSIRIS-REX was not the first mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and return samples for research. Japan succeeded in this feat twice, bringing back space pebble fragments in 2010 and 2020.
Notably, NASA chose to sample Bennu because it is thought to be rich in organic compounds. Scientists believe that a similar asteroid may have brought organic components to Earth along with water during an impact billions of years ago.
According to NASA, there is no chance of a collision with Earth until the mid-2100s, but the chance increases to about 1 in 1,750 by 2300.