“It’s open! It’s open! And ready for its closeup,” NASA’s planetary science division posted on X.
The removal of two stubborn fasteners marked a pivotal moment in accessing the precious samples from the 4.6 billion-year-old asteroid Bennu, a celestial body with a slight chance of Earth impact by 2300.
Elusive samples secured
While the bulk of rock samples from Nasa’s Osiris-Rex mission were secured soon after the canister’s September arrival, additional material within a sampler head remained elusive. The Houston team’s perseverance paid off as they dislodged the final two of 35 fasteners, prompting jubilant exclamations from Nasa’s planetary science division and the unveiling of a captivating image showing the dust and small rocks nestled inside the canister.
The mission to retrieve a sample from Bennu, a celestial relic from the dawn of the solar system, spanned over seven years and demanded an investment close to $1 billion.
OSIRIS-REx represents the third endeavor of Nasa’s New Frontiers Program, orchestrated by Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This initiative is directed by the Science Mission Directorate situated at Nasa Headquarters in Washington.
Precision tools for pristine samples
In a meticulous effort to avoid earthly contamination, the team crafted custom tools from a specific surgical, non-magnetic stainless steel. These tools were instrumental in delicately opening the container and ensuring the nine-ounce sample, believed to be among the solar system’s oldest materials, remained pristine for analysis.
Unlocking cosmic secrets
Ashley King of London’s Natural History Museum reflected on the significance of such asteroid samples, emphasizing their role in unraveling the ingredients and processes that shaped habitable environments like Earth. Meanwhile, the spacecraft responsible for this cosmic harvest has embarked on a new journey towards Apophis, another intriguing asteroid.
The curation team at Johnson, led by Eileen Stansbery of ARES and Dr Nicole Lunning, Osiris-Rex curator, is basking in the success of their relentless efforts. Their skillful handling of the TAGSAM head’s stubborn fasteners has allowed for the continuation of the disassembly process, a milestone that resonates with joy and anticipation among the team.
A Rosetta stone from the stars
After the initial hurdles, the container’s unveiling has sparked a wave of excitement. Holding over 70 grams of material, the capsule is seen as a Rosetta Stone, offering profound insights into the solar system and life’s origins on Earth. Dante Lauretta, a prominent figure on the OSIRIS-REx mission, expressed hopes of uncovering traces of early biology within these ancient rocks. These celestial fragments, already hinting at water presence, stand to deepen our understanding of cosmic phenomena and life’s genesis.
Global scientific odyssey ahead
With the samples now accessible, Nasa is gearing up to share this extraterrestrial treasure with the scientific community worldwide. The agency’s meticulous preservation and analysis efforts aim to pave the way for a comprehensive global study, unraveling the mysteries embedded in these ancient asteroid particles and further enriching our cosmic knowledge.