NASA makes historic touchdown on asteroid Bennu in US first.
AFTER more than a decade of planning NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft unfurled its 11-foot robotic arm on Tuesday, October 20, and in a first for the agency, briefly bounced on the asteroid’s surface to collect dust and pebbles from the surface to bring back to Earth in 2023.
The painstaking descent took 4.5 hours, during which time the robotic arm dodged boulders the size of buildings.
The well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth.
It offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth, say NASA.
If Tuesday’s sample collection, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021.
Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.
“This amazing first for NASA demonstrates how an incredible team from across the country came together and persevered through incredible challenges to expand the boundaries of knowledge,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“Our industry, academic, and international partners have made it possible to hold a piece of the most ancient solar system in our hands.”
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