For the first time, NASA has returned some dust and other bits of an asteroid collected in space to Earth for study.
On Sunday morning, the spacecraft released a capsule that landed a little over four hours later, at 9:52 a.m. PT, in the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. Within 20 minutes, scientists, engineers and military personnel arrived by helicopter to inspect and secure the capsule, which was transported to a nearby cleanroom. It will be moved to Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday.
“While this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it’s truly just the beginning of another,” Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for Osiris-Rex based at the University of Arizona, said in a statement. “We now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyze these samples and delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.”
In 2020, the van-size spacecraft performed a “touch and go” maneuver — sort of like a chest bump in space — and swiped a few ounces of material from the space rock, which is really a pile of rubble held together by its own gravity. Osiris-Rex lingered around Bennu until 2021, when it started its two-year journey back to Earth.