In 2016, NASA launched OSIRIS-REx, the first US mission to collect samples from an asteroid.
Now, the historic mission is coming to an end seven years later. The sample capsule from OSIRIS-REx — which NASA calls the daredevil spacecraft — landed in the Utah desert Sunday morning. The capsule was filled with rock and dust samples collected by the spacecraft on the asteroid Bennu 2020.
Those samples will prove useful to scientists born centuries from now.
“Those samples will be analyzed in the weeks, months, years, decades, really centuries to come,” Noah Petro, a research space scientist with NASA, told Insider.
That’s because scientists will be searching the samples for organic materials and amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — to better understand how life may have developed on Earth billions of years ago, Petro said.
Finding that organic material is everyone’s hope, but it may be a bit of a “long shot,” Richard Burns, project manager for OSIRIS-REx, said at a press conference Friday.
“It would be exciting if there was any indication that these amino acids were starting to link up to form chains, or peptides. Burns stated that this would provide us with some evidence of the evolution of proteins towards life’s origin.
Researchers targeted Bennu because they believed there would be carbon and water locked up in the clay of the asteroid, Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, said at the press conference.
The OSIRIS-REx mission hasn’t been total smooth sailing for the team, however. Soon after the spacecraft first gathered the Bennu sample, a valve on the container couldn’t close properly because of how much sample was inside. dust started leaking ,, as Insider had previously reported.
The group had to make a pivot and store the sample in its capsule immediately instead of first weighing it as they planned.
” “We almost became a victim to our own success,” Lauretta remarked at the time.