NASA’s OSIRIS-REX Spacecraft Completes Touch-Down on Bennu Asteroid

The spacecraft attempted to suck up rocks and dirt from the asteroid, which could aid humanity’s ability to divert one that might slam into Earth.


[How much of Bennu did NASA’s OSIRIS-REX collect? We’re waiting to find out.]


A NASA robot pogo-sticked off an asteroid on Tuesday and grabbed a sample of dirt and rocks, material that could give scientists new insights to the birth of the solar system.

From first impressions recorded 200 millions away on Earth, the OSIRIS-REX spacecraft pulled off its collection of bits of asteroid, a carbon-rich rock known as Bennu, perfectly. It then backed away and headed back to orbit.


“Transcendental,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, said moments later. “I mean, I can’t believe we actually pulled this off.”


It will take a few more days before scientists can completely declare success. At present, they can only say that the spacecraft executed its instructions exactly as programmed. What is not yet known is how much material was actually grabbed. Scientists are hoping for at least a couple of ounces, but the sampling mechanism can hold up to four pounds. “It’s up to Bennu now to see how the event went,” Dr. Lauretta said. If it succeeded in its goal of sucking up some rocks and dirt from the asteroid’s surface, it could potentially unlock secrets to what the solar system was like when it first formed 4.5 billion years ago.


“The asteroids are like time capsules, floating in space, that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said during a news conference on Monday. Many asteroids — including Bennu — cross the orbit of Earth and could collide with our planet someday. A better understanding of these space rocks, which come in many types, could aid humanity’s ability to divert one that might slam into Earth.


The name OSIRIS-REX is a shortening of Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.

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