NASA OSIRIS-REx craft JAMS after collecting too much rubble from asteroid Bennu – and the precious samples are escaping into space

  • NASA touched down on asteroid Bennu Tuesday to gather dirt and dust
  • The samples will be sent back to Earth and studied by scientists
  • However, the robot arm that collected the samples jammed Friday
  • The arm gathered more rubble than planned and is now releasing the samples  

NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft recently touched down on asteroid Bennu more than 200 million miles away from Earth to collect a sample of dirt and dust.

The American space agency confirmed that the craft gathered at least two ounces (60 grams), but is now stuffed with so much rubble from this week’s grab that it’s jammed open and precious particles are drifting away in space. 

The mission´s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, said Tuesday’s operation collected far more material than expected for return to Earth – in the hundreds of grams. 

The sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, however, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.

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The team was scrambling to put the sample container into the return capsule as early as Tuesday – much sooner than originally planned – for the long trip home. 

Particles are continuing to escape, and scientists want to minimize the loss.

‘Time is of the essence,’ said Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of NASA’s science missions.

A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu – at least one-half of an ounce (5 to 10 grams) at any one time. 

The situation appeared to stabilize, according to Lauretta, once the robot arm stopped moving and was locked into place. 

In this image taken from video released by NASA, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

In this image taken from video released by NASA, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

The requirement for Orisis-Rex – NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, totaling more than $800 million – was at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of samples for return. 

The carbon-rich material holds the preserved building blocks of our solar system and could help scientists better understand how the planets were formed and how life originated on Earth.

Launched in 2016, the spacecraft arrived at Bennu in 2018. 

Regardless of what’s on board, it will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March. The samples won’t return to Earth until 2023.

On Wednesday NASA unveiled videos and images showing the moment the spacecraft pulled off the six-second touch-and-go (TAG) mission where it bounced off the asteroid’s surface and picked up samples along the way.

The triumphant $1.16 billion mission is the first American effort to take a sample from an asteroid with the hopes to unlock secrets about the origin of life on Earth.

The images show how the spacecraft descended within three feet of the target landing spot dubbed Nightingale on the asteroid while avoiding boulders the size of buildings. Then the spacecraft’s 11-foot robotic arm appeared to smash some porous rock upon initial contact on the surface.

A nitrogen gas bottle then fired on the surface to stir up material and suck it up in a ‘rubble shower’.

The spacecraft spent five seconds of the six seconds of contact collecting the material before backing away, with a majority of the sample collected in the first three seconds.



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