Cape Canaveral, Florida (Washington Insider Magazine) A NASA spacecraft has begun its long trip home to Earth on Monday. It has “rubble from an asteroid tucked inside.”
Osiris-Rex will spend two years in space as it flies home to Earth. In 2018, Osiris-Rex reached the asteroid Bennu. It has spent two years either flying around Bennu or near it. Dante Lauretta, the principal scientist from the University of Arizona, estimated that the “spacecraft holds between a half pound and 1 pound (200 grams and 400 grams) of mostly bite-size chunks. Either way, it easily exceeds the target of at least 2 ounces (60 grams.)”
Only the Apollo moon rocks have exceeded this cosmic haul. It’s true that NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind samples; however, this will be the first time that it will have brought back asteroid pieces. Japan has brought back tiny amounts on two occasions.
Jason Dworkin, NASA’s project scientist, is excited about Osiris-Rex’s homeward journey. “I’ve been working on getting a sample back from an asteroid since my daughter was in diapers, and now she’s graduating from high school, so it’s been a long journey.”
Scientists find that Osiris-Rex’s departure from Bennu is bittersweet. Lauretta added, “We have gotten used to being at Bennu and seeing new and exciting images and data coming back to us here on Earth.” Obviously, that part of the project is over.
Osiris-Rex’s journey to Earth started when it was 200 miles from Bennu “when it fired its main engines Monday afternoon for a fast, clean get=away.”
Scientists have hope to discover from Bennu – and from the solar system per se – secrets that are contained in the samples taken last October. Bennu is a “dark, rough, carbon-rich surface. The asteroid is an estimated 1,600 feet wide.”
The samples from Bennu hold much information. It is thought that Bennu came from a bigger asteroid – Bennu is just a chunk of that asteroid. The amazing thing is that scientists believe that Bennu holds “the preserved building blocks of the solar system. The returning pieces could shed light on how the planets formed and how life arose on Earth.”
The spacecraft is the size of an SUV. The spaceship will circle the sun twice “before delivering its small sample capsule to Utah’s desert floor on Sept 24, 2023, to end the more than $800-million mission. It launched from Cape Canaveral in 2016.”