NASA’s OSIRIS-REx returned to Earth last month, dropping off NASA’s first-ever asteroid sample in the Utah desert, where it was rushed away to a secure NASA facility to be opened and then studied. However, NASA says it has run into a good problem to have while trying to open the spacecraft: there are way more asteroid samples from Bennu than they expected.
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Since the landing of the spacecraft near the end of September, NASA has been working to open the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head, which will allow the team access to the brunt of the Bennu asteroid sample. This has, however, taken considerably longer than anticipated.
“The very best ‘problem’ to have is that there is so much material, it’s taking longer than we expected to collect it,” Christopher Snead, deputy OSIRIS-REx curation lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, shared in a statement. NASA, and other astronomers can study a lot of data in regards to Bennu.
This is good news even though it takes longer to sort and secure everything. Bennu is a small near-Earth asteroid that passes close to Earth every six years or so. In fact, it has a very small chance of colliding with Earth in 2182. Bennu’s relative proximity to Earth made it an ideal location for OSIRIS REx to collect an asteroid.
But when NASA’s spacecraft touched down on Bennu in 2020, we learned that the asteroid is much more fragile than expected. We discovered that the gravity of Bennu is not pushing small pieces of debris, like dust and rocks together. Instead everything was held loosely together. OSIRIS-REx was still able to capture a solid asteroid sample of Bennu, though, and it soon began the trek back home.
This looseness probably played a major role in why the TAGSAM picked up so many extra materials, along with the material leaking from the TAGSAM prior to it being completely stowed. While it might be a bit annoying to have to slow down the process of getting to the real samples, NASA is very happy to have a problem like this.
The post NASA’s first asteroid sample return has a problem, but it’s a good one appeared first on BGR.