NASA made history on Tuesday as its spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, landed on an ancient asteroid 200 million miles away from Earth to collect dust and pebbles from the surface.
OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016. It arrived at the asteroid, named Bennu, in 2018 and it’s been mapping out the surface working to pick the best location to land ever since.
Tuesday, OSIRIS-REx touched down on Bennu to attempt to collect samples just after 3:15 p.m.
NASA has not yet learned how much of a sample the spacecraft was able to pick up before launching back into space. That information, along with photos, will come in the following days.
“This amazing first for NASA demonstrates how an incredible team from across the country came together and persevered through incredible challenges to expand the boundaries of knowledge,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Our industry, academic, and international partners have made it possible to hold a piece of the most ancient solar system in our hands.”
Dr. Lori Glaze with NASA tells KNXV the sample will allow researchers to study the ancient secrets of our solar system. She says Bennu also has a 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth in about 150 years or so, so this mission can help researchers work to prevent that.
“Helping us refine and reduce the uncertainties on Bennu’s orbit so we can better predict more precisely not only when it might intercept with Earth, but what the probability of that intersection is,” Dr. Glaze said. “So the mission's been critically important for refining Bennu’s orbit so we can help protect ourselves in the future.”
The samples collected from Bennu won't return to Earth until 2023.
This story was first reported by Jamie Warren at KNXV in Phoenix, Arizona.