The American spacecraft Osiris-REx scattered part of the soil collected from the asteroid Bennu 333 million km from Earth. He took so many samples that it gets jammed, and precious particles are carried away into space. Reported by the Associated Press.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft briefly touched asteroid Bennu this week. This was NASA’s first attempt at such a mission.
The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, said that the operation collected much more material than was expected to return to Earth. We are talking about hundreds of grams, although it was planned to deliver only 60 grams. However, the sample container at the end of the NASA robot arm penetrated so deep into the asteroid and with such force that rocks jammed the edges of the lid.
“We are almost the victim of our own success,” Lauretta said at a hastily organized press conference.
Scientists were surprised – and then alarmed – on Thursday when they saw pictures taken by Osiris-Rex after successfully touching Bennu two days earlier. A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen circling the spacecraft as it retreated from Bennu. The situation stabilized when the robot’s arm was locked in place, Laurette said. But it was impossible to know exactly how many particles had already been lost.
The experts found that the material was collected from a depth of 48 centimeters. Now experts intend to accelerate the process of moving the soil into a special capsule for delivery to Earth. The mission’s lead scientist acknowledged that there was nothing else air traffic controllers could do to remove obstacles and prevent more Bennu particles from escaping.
“Time is of the essence,” said NASA Science Mission Chief Thomas Zurbuchen.
This is NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission. Bennu was chosen because its carbon-rich material is believed to contain the surviving building blocks of our solar system. Getting bits of this space “time capsule” could help scientists better understand how planets formed billions of years ago and how life began on Earth in general.
The Osiris-REx spacecraft, which had been in Bennu orbit for two years, collected soil samples from the asteroid on Wednesday night. Landing was not required: after the descent, the device touched the surface to grab the rock using a 3.35 m long manipulator arm with a sample collection unit. Osiris-REx was supposed to release a stream of gaseous nitrogen under pressure and collect the dust that had risen from the surface with a special pump.
Osiris-Rex will leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March, the earliest possible departure gave the relative positions of Earth and Bennu. Samples will not return until 2023, seven years after the spacecraft left the Cape Canaveral launch site.