The NASA probe landed on the surface of the asteroid “Bennu”, which is characterized by being rugged, and picked up a rock sample dating back to the period of the emergence and formation of our solar system.
The “Osiris Rex” spacecraft extended its 3.35-meter long robotic arm toward a flat patch of gravel near the north pole of the asteroid “Bennu” and captured the rock sample, the first handful of virgin asteroid rocks for NASA.
“The sample collection is complete,” said Estelle Church, responsible for carrying out the spacecraft mission built by Lockheed Martin.
Church confirmed that the spacecraft, which has been in orbit around the asteroid for two years, moved away from the asteroid after the successful completion of the mission.
The probe is expected to send pictures of the sample collection on Wednesday, so that scientists can examine the amount of material collected and determine whether the probe will need to make another attempt to collect samples.
If the sample collection proves successful, the spacecraft, which was launched from the Kennedy Center in 2016, will return to Earth, arriving in 2023.
It is worth noting that Japan is the only other country that has already accomplished such a thing, when the “Hayabusa 2” spacecraft landed on the asteroid “Ryugu”.
Bennu is located more than 160 million kilometers from Earth, and it is a rocky mass that looks like a giant oak tree that formed in the early days of our solar system, and scientists say it may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.
“Everything went just as it should … We overcame the amazing challenges that this asteroid represented, and it seems that the spacecraft has worked flawlessly,” Dante Loretta, principal investigator for the Osiris Rex spacecraft from the University of Arizona in Tucson, said in a live broadcast of NASA.
The sample collection device attached to the arm is designed to release compressed gas to capture the rock sample.
Before taking the sample, NASA planetary scientist Lucy Lim said, “A lot could go wrong because a spacecraft is the size of a small truck, and an asteroid has a lot of rocks. So we have to go between the rocks to get our sample, and put a lot of planning on that.”
Asteroids are among the debris left over from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
Scientists believe that asteroids and comets that collided with Earth in early stages provided it with organic compounds and water needed for life on the planet, and atomic analysis of samples taken from the asteroid Bennu may provide important evidence to prove this hypothesis.