HOUSTON (Michigan News Source) – A NASA spacecraft is heading back to earth with a special delivery—the largest sample ever collected from an asteroid.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fly by on September 24 and drop a tire-sized capsule containing a few ounces of rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu, 200 million miles away.
“This mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth,” NASA wrote on its program website.
The capsule is expected to land in the Utah desert. Speaking to Colorado Public Radio, program manager Sandy Freund from Lockheed Martin said scientists will spend several days disassembling the sample capsule to make sure they retrieve every scrap of asteroid debris.
“The primary goal is to understand what Bennu is made up of, but there is great interest amongst the science community, as well as NASA, to understand how we can deflect asteroids that come near Earth,” Freund told CPR. “There is a very small chance in the late 2100 timeframe that Bennu will come close enough to Earth for potential impact.”
After completing its drop off, OSIRIS-REx will head back into space to continue its asteroid exploration. The sample will be studied at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.