After over seven years journeying through space, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx has finally dropped off its first package to Earth. The asteroid-studying probe is currently headed back out on its mission, but in the meantime, scientists are preparing to open up and look at the first samples from the asteroid Bennu.
The package touched down on Sunday, September 24, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. It was later attached to a helicopter and then transported to a clean room, which only six people will have access to.
Since being cleaned and placed in the clean room, the OSIRIS-REx sample from Bennu has been under constant monitoring, including using nitrogen to help protect the sample from oxygen and moisture.
NASA has provided several photos of the OSIRIS-REx sample landing on its Flickr page. These photos not only show the capsule that carried the Bennu samples down to Earth but also show how NASA handled transporting the package to the clean room and beyond.
Next on the agenda is to break open the capsule and then inspect the samples. NASA expects to be able to provide a different analysis of the samples on October 11, a few weeks from now. This is an exciting moment that has definitely left some people feeling uneasy. This marks one of just a few times that we have procured something from a space-born entity and then carried it down to Earth.
The possibility of what might be waiting in that sample is both exciting and a bit terrifying – as we have no idea what kind of ancient organisms or bacteria might have survived on Bennu, waiting to be returned to oxygen, where they might flourish again.
That’s why NASA is taking extra security measures when dealing with the Bennu sample return provided by OSIRIS-REx, a procedure it intends to continue with its Mars sample return.