NASA has succeeded in bringing back to Earth a capsule containing samples gathered from an asteroid — a first for the space agency.
The sample return capsule (SRC) from the OSIRIS-REx mission landed at 8:52 a.m. MT (10:52 a.m. ET) on Sunday in a targeted area of the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.
“A journey of a billion miles to asteroid Bennu and back has come to an end, marking America’s first sample return mission of its kind and opening a time capsule to our ancient solar system,” the live-stream commentator announced as the capsule touched down.
It’s been an incredible journey, too, with the spacecraft launching just over seven years ago on an ambitious mission to put a spacecraft on a distant asteroid, collect samples, and then get them all the way back to Earth.
After being dropped off by the spacecraft some 60,000 miles (96,000 km) from Earth, a live stream showed the SRC streaking across the sky off the coast of California as it decelerated from 27,650 mph (44,500 kph) to just 11 mph (18 kph) at touchdown.
A helicopter camera then tracked the capsule as its orange-colored parachute slowed it down during the final descent.
A short while later, a mission operator confirmed the SRC’s landing.
And then received the first official visual of the capsule.
The first team members to reach the capsule performed a series of safety checks.
However, the capsule needed to get airborne one more time as it was carried by helicopter to a clean room.
Here we see the capsule arriving at the clean room.
Members of the mission team peer inside the capsule for the first time since its return.
NASA chief Bill Nelson hailed the first American asteroid sample return in history as a major success, voicing the hope that it will “deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation.” He also noted that Bennu is currently listed as a potentially hazardous asteroid (there’s an outside chance of it striking Earth in 2182, though we should be able to redirect it if it does pose a serious threat), and said that learning more about its composition could tell us more about the types of asteroids that may come our way.
Two previously successful asteroid sample return missions include Japan’s Hayabusa and Hayabusa2, which collected material from different asteroids in 2005 and 2019, respectively, before bringing them to Earth.
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