The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the successful completion of a historic mission to return soil samples from the asteroid Bennu to Earth.
The capsule containing valuable soil samples landed safely at the US Department of Defense test site in the Utah desert at 10:52 local time (18:52 Yerevan time). Prior to this, it separated from the OSIRIS-Rex automatic station and entered the atmosphere of our planet near the coast of California. It is important to note that a successful and controlled reentry was made possible by two parachutes used at different stages of the descent. The main parachute deployed at 18:47 Yerevan time, reducing the capsule's speed from hypersonic to about 18 km/h.
It should be noted that the $1 billion Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission began in 2016 with the launch of an automatic station using a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. After a successful launch, the station went to an exciting journey to the potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu, whose diameter is approaching 500 meters.
The probe reached its goal in December 2018 and spent about 22 months studying the asteroid and preparing for the moment to collect samples. In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx successfully landed on the surface of Bennu and collected an astonishing amount of approximately 250 grams of soil. The exact number of samples obtained will be known after specialists open the capsule. In the near future the capsule will go to the Space Center. Johnson in Houston, where future studies will be conducted. Scientists from around the world will have the opportunity to study these valuable soil samples from the asteroid.
Asteroids are considered unique fossils of the solar system, existing long before the formation of the planets. Studying soil from the asteroid Bennu will allow scientists to more deeply understand the initial stages of the evolution of our solar system. In addition, this soil may contain key evidence supporting the theory of panspermia, according to which life on Earth could have been delivered from space.
The OSIRIS-REx probe itself, despite the successful completion of the mission, will continue its research. His next target will be the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis. If everything goes according to plan, the automated station will reach the asteroid in 2029 and begin a detailed study that will last 18 months.