NASA Makes Historic Landing On Asteroid Bennu To Collect Rock Samples
A NASA spacecraft has made history by landing on the surface of an asteroid, before safely backing away.
The Osiris-Rex managed to avoid huge boulders to successfully gather samples from Bennu in just a few seconds.
During the brief – but incredibly significant – landing, the van-sized spacecraft used an 11-foot robotic arm to bounce off the surface of the asteroid.
Shortly after the landing, which took place on Tuesday, October 20, Dante Lauretta, who led the mission, said: ‘I can’t believe we actually pulled this off. This is history. It’s amazing.’
Now, the team of scientists are eagerly anticipating images from the spacecraft so they can find out if the robotic arm managed to grab enough of a sample for them to begin their journey back to Earth.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft launched four years ago, with the sole purpose of landing on asteroid Bennu. This mission is, of course, the first of its kind, and is a huge landmark in terms of gathering information on the asteroid.
Bennu is particularly significant, as it has a very similar orbit to Earth, and it’s believed that asteroids of its kind could have delivered building blocks of life to our planet and life as we know it. Therefore, the research is deemed as hugely important in terms of finding out more about where we came from.
The Osiris-Rex first reached Bennu in 2018, and the team began looking for a safe spot to land. The area which they chose has affectionately been called Nightingale.
Yesterday’s landing was the result of many well thought out rehearsals, and saw the spacecraft automatically descend towards the surface of the asteroid, using commands from ground controllers located near Denver.
It took 18 minutes from landing before the spacecraft was able to get a signal back to the ground control to confirm the touchdown had taken place. At this stage, it’s not clear how much material was collected, but the team remains hopeful.
In a statement, Lauretta said:
After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today’s sampling attempt.
Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event – the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. I look forward to analysing the data to determine the mass of sample collected.
This could go a huge way in determining how life on Earth began.
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