The Osiris Rex spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, extended its 11-foot (3.35 meter) robotic arm toward a flat patch of gravel near the north pole of Beno and captured the rock sample, the first handful of virgin asteroid rocks for NASA.
“The sample collection is complete,” said Estelle Church, responsible for the Lockheed mission, and confirmed that the spacecraft moved away from the asteroid after the mission was completed.
The probe will 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 will return to Earth, arriving in 2023, and Japan is the only other country that has actually accomplished this.
Bennu is located more than 100 million miles from planet Earth, which is a rocky mass that looks like a giant oak tree, formed in the early days of our solar system, and scientists say it may “bear evidence of the origins of life on Earth.”
“Everything went just as it should … We overcame the amazing challenges this asteroid represented, and it looks like the spacecraft worked flawlessly,” Dante Loretta, principal investigator of the Osiris Rex spacecraft from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a live broadcast of NASA from the Lockheed Mission Support Building. “. The sample collection device attached to the arm is designed to release compressed gas to capture the rock sample.
The spacecraft was launched in 2016 from the Kennedy Space Center on a flight to Benno. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years in preparation for the maneuver.
Before taking the sample, Lucy Lim, a planetary scientist at NASA, said, “A lot could go wrong because the spacecraft is the size of a small truck, and the 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 collided with the Earth in early stages, providing it with organic compounds and water needed for life on the planet, and an atomic analysis of samples taken from the asteroid Bennu may provide important evidence to prove this hypothesis.
The asteroid Bennu is 334 million kilometers from Earth and is 500 meters in width. The Rex mission was launched on September 8, 2016, and reached Benno on December 3, 2018, and the sample will return to Earth on September 24, 2023.