-By James Carroll
The Osiris-REx became the first spacecraft to retrieve minerals from an asteroid when it obtained around 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of a sample from asteroid Bennu at approximately 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20. After five and a half hours of descending towards the asteroid’s surface and inching its way towards the collection sight, Osiris-REx touched down on the half-mile long rock and collected the sample. It fired a burst of nitrogen gas from its 11-foot sampling arm and captured the loosened sediment.
“The Osiris-REx program is going to give us the rare opportunity to examine very very primitive materials that made up our solar system and our Earth,” NASA Solar System Ambassador and UNT Astronomy Lab Director Diiulio Ronald said. “Earth’s gravity has caused these materials to sink down towards the core of the earth, so it’s harder to find those heavy materials like gold. Finding them on a planet that’s only a mile wide is not going to have the kind of gravity that will make that stuff sink.”
Diiulio claims that the minerals found on Bennu could prove very useful if extracted in large amounts.
“I see them as not only a pit-stop [for deep space missions] but a fuel station and also potential mineral mines,” Diiulio said. “There are other things on these asteroids that we’re very interested in; materials we can use in construction and things like gold and diamonds.
Osiris-REx launched on Sept. 8, 2016
If Osiris-REx doesn’t have enough material, it will attempt another extraction on Jan. 12, 2021.
Osiris-REx is scheduled to begin its journey home in March 2021 and return to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023
Timeline of Osiris-REx courtesy of Lockheed Martin