Nasa‘s first asteroid samples are hurtling towards Earth after being released from the Osiris-Rex spacecraft. This event marks the culmination of a seven-year journey, with the capsule set to make a touchdown in the Utah desert.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the capsule from a distance of 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) while flying past Earth, and it is expected to parachute down onto the military’s Utah Test and Training Range approximately four hours later.
Scientists are eagerly anticipating the retrieval of at least a cup’s worth of material from the carbon-rich asteroid, known as Bennu. Japan is the only other country to have successfully brought back asteroid samples, returning about a teaspoon’s worth, reported AP.
These pristine samples are believed to contain remnants from the early days of our solar system and hold the potential to provide valuable insights into the formation of Earth and life itself.
The Osiris-Rex mission, launched in 2016 with a budget of $1 billion, reached Bennu in 2018. Using a unique long stick vacuum, the spacecraft collected dust and pebbles from this small, roundish space rock in 2020.
By the time it returned to Earth on Sunday, the spacecraft had covered an astounding distance of 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).
Having successfully released the sample capsule, Osiris-Rex is already preparing for its next mission, targeting another asteroid. This encounter is not expected to occur until 2029.
Nasa’s extensive recovery operation in Utah involves helicopters and the establishment of a temporary clean room at the test range. On Monday the collected samples are scheduled to be flown to a new laboratory at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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