A NASA spacecraft headed back to Earth with debris collected from an asteroid about 200 million miles away
Cape Canaveral, Fla. – With debris from inside an asteroid, a NASA spacecraft fired its engines and began a long journey to Earth on Monday, leaving the ancient space rock in its rearview mirror.
The journey home to robotic inspector Osiris-Rex, will take two years.
Osiris-Rex reached the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and spent two years flying near and around it, before collecting debris from the last fall from the surface.
Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, the lead scientist, estimates that the spacecraft mostly holds between half a pound and 1 pound (200 grams and 400 grams) of bite size. Either way, it easily surpasses the target of at least 2 ounces (60 grams).
Scientists described Monday’s departure from Benue’s neighborhood as a bitvert.
NASA project scientist Jason Dorkin said, “I’ve been working since taking a sample in my daughter’s diaper because my daughter was in diapers and now she’s graduating from high school, so it’s a long journey. “
Added Lauretta: “We used to be in Benu and new and exciting images and data are coming back to our earth here.”
The Osiris-Rex solar-orbiter was already about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from Bennu, when it fired its main engines Monday afternoon to be fast, clean.
Colorado-based flight controllers for spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin applauded when the spacecraft’s departure was confirmed: “We’re bringing samples home!”
Scientists hope that some of the samples taken from the dark, rough, carbon-rich surface of Beanu in October last year will reveal the secrets of the solar system. The asteroid is 1,600 feet (490 m) wide.
Bennu – a chunk broken by a large asteroid – is believed to contain protected building blocks of the solar system. Returning fragments can shed light on how planets formed and how life on Earth originated. They could also improve the earth’s barriers against any incoming rocks.
Although the asteroid is 178 million miles (287 million kilometers) away, Osiris-Rex will put another 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kilometers) on its odometer to catch up with the Earth.
The SUV-sized spacecraft will circumnavigate the sun twice to finish its $ 800 million-plus mission before transporting its small sample capsule to the desert floor of Utah in 24, 2023. It was launched in 2016 from Cape Canaveral.
The precious samples will be housed in a new laboratory already under construction at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to hundreds of pounds of lunar material collected by 12 Apollo Moonwalkers from 1969 to 1972.
Scientists had initially stored 2 pounds (1 kg) of asteroid debris to the spacecraft, but recently revised their estimate downward. They will not know anything until the capsule is opened after touchdown.
“Every bit of sample is valuable,” Dworkin said. “We have to be patient.”
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