Last week’s OSIRIS-REx mission could easily be overlooked as ‘just another of those’ but when you start to look into the details you head starts to spin:
So, here we have an asteroid, larger than the empire state building…
…careering through space at 63,000 mph — and here we are, trying to grab a sample from the asteroid in full flight.
For the collection, NASA chose a mostly flat site dubbed the ‘nightingale’ —notice the building-sized rocks on the perimeter:
Just take a moment to imagine the precision involved in the calculations required to pull this off. I don’t look into the details and prefer to marvel at the operation from a safe distance!
The sample collection went off without a hitch:
The team wanted a 60 gram sample but OSISRIS took a bit too much…. and it’s apparently leaking some sample as a result of a few rocks jamming the hatch.
The scientists still feel they’ll have plenty but now there must be some anxiety in the camp, particularly given they won’t get to confirm the sample size for a few more days. In the unlikely event that they don’t have enough sample, they will be able to try again in January of next year.
As to the ‘why’ of the mission, Scientist know that primitive asteroids like Bennu are essentially unchanged since the solar system was formed 4.5 billion years ago. Thus the organic compounds on Bennu may provide clues as to the origins of LIFE ON EARTH.
Let’s wait and see what these samples deliver when they finally come back to Earth in 2023.
Here’s a short animation of the approach and collection — astonishing!