US space entity NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is attempting to return back to earth from its visit to Bennu, a skyscraper-sized asteroid 200 million miles (320 million kilometers) from Earth, to survey the surface, collect samples.
As the spacecraft pushed away from the asteroid, whose acorn-shaped body formed in the early days of our solar system, staff at the OSIRIS-REx control room in Colorado rejoiced. OSIRIS-REx had arrived at Bennu in 2018.
According to Mr. Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, the spacecraft discovered traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface, which are part of the recipe for water and hence the potential for existence.
It would take about two years for the craft to return to Earth. After that, the spacecraft will eject a capsule containing the asteroid samples, which NASA expects to land in a remote region of Utah.
NASA said that samples will be distributed to research laboratories around the world, but 75 percent of the samples will be stored at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for future generations to study with technologies that have yet to be created.
The $800 million Lockheed Martin-built OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is around the size of a minivan. The vehicle was launched in 2016 to collect and return the first US sample of pristine asteroid materials. The only other country to achieve this feat is Japan.
Asteroids are among the 4.5 billion-year-old debris leftover from the solar system’s formation. According to scientists, a sample may contain clues to the origins of life on Earth.