NASA will discuss the imminent arrival of the asteroid sample collected by its OSIRIS-REx probe during a press conference today (August 30), and you can watch it live.
That sample — about 8.8 ounces (250 grams) of dirt and grit picked up from near-Earth asteroid Bennu in October 2020 — is scheduled to land at the US Department of Defense’s Test and Training Range in Utah on September 24.
NASA will preview the highly anticipated event today, during a press conference at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) being held at the Utah location. You can watch it live here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly through the agency.
Related: Dramatic samples show that asteroid Bennu is not what scientists expected it to be
Participating in today’s OSIRIS-REx press conference are:
- Melissa Morris, OSIRIS-REx Program Executive Director, NASA Headquarters, Washington
- Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator, University of Arizona, Tucson
- Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx Project Manager, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
- Sandra Freund, OSIRIS-REx Program Manager, Lockheed Martin, Littleton, Colorado
- Kevin Reiter, deputy commander, OSIRIS-REx Processing, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston
These guys are actually in Utah for a very good reason: They’re training for the big day.
“During the week of August 30, the OSIRIS-REx mission team is testing landing and recovery plans with the goal of reducing the time needed to safely retrieve the sample capsule from the desert floor and transfer it to a clean room at base, to protect rocks and dust collected from Bennu’s surface from terrestrial contaminants,” NASA officials said. wrote in a blog post.
OSIRIS-REx was launched in September 2016, at the start of an ambitious mission to explore Bennu, a potentially hazardous asteroid about 1,650 feet (500 meters) across.
The mission’s full name reveals the breadth of its goals and missions: “Assets – Spectral Interpretation – Resource Identification – Security – Regret Explorer.” For example, the “Origins” portion points to Bennu’s status as a primitive, carbon-rich asteroid, the kind that may have seeded Earth with the essential elements for life long ago through impacts. Scientists will look for signs of these building blocks – organic molecules that contain carbon – in the OSIRIS-REx sample, once it lands on Earth.
And “security” is a nod to Bennu’s potentially dangerous nature: learning more about this space rock could benefit our efforts to deflect a dangerous asteroid from Earth, which experts say we’ll need to do at some point in the future.
OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in early December 2018, and slid into orbit around the space rock four weeks later.
Bennu is the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx set another record during its visit, too: It made the closest orbit ever for a small object, sliding just 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) above the asteroid’s surface.
OSIRIS-REx has been taking measurements of the space rock from orbit for about two years. And then, in October 2020, she dived in for an epic sample, surprisingly nearly getting swallowed by the squishy Beano in the process.
But OSIRIS-REx escaped its encounter. The probe left Bennu in May 2021 and began its long journey back to Earth. And while the sample capsule will land here next month, the probe itself will continue to fly; It will head towards a second potentially dangerous asteroid, the infamous Apophis, and will reach the space rock in 2029.
OSIRIS-REx will study Apophis up close, gathering more data that can teach us about the formation and evolution of the solar system – and possibly help us defend our planet in the future.
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