NASA’s Momentous Discovery: Space-Sourced Asteroid Sample Successfully Returned to Earth

NASA’s Johnson Space Center is set to unveil the United States’ maiden asteroid sample from the OSIRIS-REx mission, which spanned seven years, on October 11. This groundbreaking sample promises to provide invaluable insights into the formation of the solar system and the origins of life on Earth.

On Wednesday, October 11, NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will be the venue for the grand reveal of the very first asteroid sample collected in space and returned to Earth by the United States. Media accreditation for this event is now open. The revelation will be accompanied by a news conference at 11 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. PDT), which will be broadcast live on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s official website.

The OSIRIS-REx mission, NASA’s inaugural asteroid sample return mission, embarked on its journey in September 2016 with the aim of exploring the near-Earth asteroid known as Bennu. In October 2020, the spacecraft descended to Bennu’s surface, successfully gathering approximately 250 grams of material destined for Earth. The mission’s climactic conclusion is scheduled for September 24, 2023, when OSIRIS-REx will release a capsule containing the precious Bennu samples for a touchdown in the Utah desert.

During the event, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) science team will delve into the initial analysis of the sample, which is anticipated to arrive on Sunday, September 24, in the Utah desert after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reenters Earth’s atmosphere and safely lands. NASA experts will meticulously retrieve the rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu inside the capsule and transport the sample to NASA Johnson for examination within a pristine curation facility.

Key participants in the news conference will include:
– NASA Administrator Bill Nelson
– Francis McCubbin, OSIRIS-REx deputy curation lead at NASA Johnson
– Daniel Glavin, OSIRIS-REx sample analysis lead at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt
– Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson

The touchdown event at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Dugway, Utah, on September 24 will signify the end of a remarkable seven-year odyssey to explore asteroid Bennu, retrieve a sample from its surface, and return it to Earth. Subsequently, the mission’s next phase, encompassing both curation and research endeavors, will commence after the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule reaches Johnson on Monday, September 25. The curation team will systematically disassemble the sample container to extract the bulk of the sample, with researchers conducting a preliminary analysis of the sample’s contents. The results of this analysis will be shared for the first time on October 11.

NASA has established a dedicated OSIRIS-REx Sample Curation Laboratory, where curators from the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science team will oversee the distribution of samples to scientists worldwide in the coming years. These scientists aim to deepen our understanding of the formation of our planet and the solar system, as well as the origins of organic materials that may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth. A portion of the sample will also be preserved for future research, utilizing evolving technologies that promise to enhance scientific discoveries in the decades to come.

At Johnson Space Center, the world’s largest collection of astromaterials from the solar system resides under one roof. This extraordinary collection includes samples from asteroids, comets, Mars, the Moon, the Sun, and even dust from distant stars. Utilizing state-of-the-art laboratories, scientists conduct research on planetary materials and the space environment to unravel the mysteries of the origin and evolution of our solar system and beyond.

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