Navigating through the cosmic tales of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, one can’t help but draw parallels with the cinematic universe of “Don’t Look Up,” where an impending comet threatens Earth’s existence, mirroring our own vulnerabilities in the vast expanse of space. The asteroid Bennu, now dissected in the labs at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, whispers secrets from the abyss of space, much like the cinematic comet that served as a metaphor for ignored warnings and unheeded scientific advice. The astromaterials curation team, akin to celestial detectives, meticulously unravel particles from the TAGSAM head, revealing not just rocks but stories, echoes of cosmic events, and tales from the void beyond.
Now, let’s talk about the nitrogen gas TAGSAM used to coax asteroid particles into its head, a technique that managed to gather particles from a whopping 19 inches below Bennu’s surface! This isn’t just dust; it’s a time capsule from space, offering a sneak peek into Bennu’s geologic and impact history, and perhaps, the secret life of asteroids. The particles, now on Earth, are set to unveil their secrets during a live NASA event on October 11, a date marked with anticipation in the calendars of space enthusiasts and scientists alike.
The return of the sample to Earth was nothing short of a cosmic ballet. On September 24, the capsule, having traveled through the vastness of space, found its way back to Earth, landing near Salt Lake City. The charred capsule, a testament to its atmospheric journey, was transported to a temporary clean room at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, and later, on September 26, it was flown to Houston, marking the beginning of a new chapter in its journey. Meanwhile, the OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft, having bid adieu to its precious cargo, is now voyaging towards asteroid Apophis, with a rendezvous planned for 2029.
The initial curation of the Bennu sample, however, has been a slow dance. Christopher Snead, deputy OSIRIS-REx curation lead, remarked, “It’s really spectacular to have all that material there,” highlighting the abundance of material that was more than they anticipated. Lindsay Keller, an OSIRIS-REx sample analysis team member, shared insights into the advanced microanalytical techniques that will be employed to dissect the sample, promising a thorough analysis that will peer into the very atomic structure of the particles.
The curation team is now preparing to move the TAGSAM head to a specialized glovebox, where the intricate disassembly process will unfold, revealing the bulk sample within. The process, though methodical and slow, is a journey through the microscopic universe within the samples, promising revelations that could reshape our understanding of asteroids and the cosmic neighborhood we reside in.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, while scientific at heart, is also a journey of curiosity and exploration. The samples from Bennu, now on Earth, are not just rocks and dust; they are fragments of the universe, waiting to tell their stories, to reveal the secrets they have held for millennia. As we peer into these particles, we are looking back in time, exploring the history of our solar system, and perhaps, uncovering clues about our own origins. The journey of these particles, from Bennu to Earth, is a testament to our insatiable curiosity, our quest to explore, understand, and be amazed by the universe we are a part of.