Valuable samples from the asteroid Bennu stuck inside the OSIRIS-REX capsule

About a month ago, samples collected from the asteroid Bennu and packed in a sealed capsule aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REX spacecraft were delivered to Earth. The space agency began to open the container and shared the first images of a part of the collected rock. However, it seems that the process of opening the capsule has run into a problem.

This image taken by NASA in Houston, Texas, shows the exterior of the OSIRIS-REx container with valuable material for science from the asteroid Bennu. Photo: NASA

During the last week, the team of curators of the OSIRIS-REx mission encountered difficulties: they could not open the TAGSAM head, a part of the sampler at the end of the spacecraft manipulator that was used to collect samples from the asteroid. The TAGSAM head is where the bulk of the rocks from the asteroid’s surface is located, so its discovery is of great importance for the mission.

Members of the NASA curator group, together with Lockheed Martin recovery specialists, observe the successful opening of the lid of the sample container. Image authorship: NASA

“After multiple attempts at removal, the team discovered two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team has been working to develop and implement new approaches to extract the material inside the head, while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine,” NASA said. 

The discovery of the OSIRIS-REx capsule with samples of asteroid matter inside. Source: NASA/Robert Markowiz

After opening the aluminum lid of the sample container, black dust and rocks were found. On October 11, NASA published the first photos of samples collected from the surface of the TAGSAM head but stressed that the container had not yet been fully opened. Over the next weeks, engineers will try to develop new methods to extract the remaining samples. NASA emphasizes the importance of ensuring that these methods do not violate the scientific integrity of the samples.

Building Blocks of life found on Bennu

Despite these difficulties, by this time it was possible to collect significantly more material than planned within the framework of the mission. Instead of 60 grams, the team collected 70.3 grams of rocks and dust. In addition, scientists have made significant progress in studying these samples, where many carbon and water molecules have been found. This is an important discovery because it confirms the theory that our planet once received the building blocks of life from asteroids.

A capsule with samples from the asteroid Bennu was delivered by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx to Earth shortly after landing in the desert, on Sunday, September 24, 2023. Authorship: NASA

The OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 and reached the asteroid Bennu in December 2018. After almost two years of observations, the spacecraft landed on the asteroid and took a sample from its surface in October 2020. The samples were sent to Earth and landed in the Utah Desert on September 24, 2023.

Although the mission is facing difficulties, the first ones have already proven promising. Therefore, the community of scientists hopes that the remaining samples will also be successfully extracted from the container.

Earlier we reported on how NASA showed the moment of separation of the OSIRIS-REx capsule.

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