© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, consisting of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at a distance of 24 km. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Document via REUTERS
(Reuters) – A NASA spacecraft, which scientists say has collected samples from an asteroid, began its two-year journey to Earth on Monday.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft attempts to complete a mission to visit Bennu, a skyscraper-sized asteroid some 200 million miles (320 million km) from Earth, to study the surface, collect samples and bring them back to Earth.
Staff celebrated in the OSIRIS-REx control room in Colorado as the spacecraft pulled away from the asteroid, whose acorn-shaped body formed at the start of our solar system. OSIRIS-REx came to Bennu in 2018.
The spacecraft found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules – which are part of the recipe for water and therefore the potential for life – embedded in the rocky surface of the asteroid, said researcher Dante Lauretta. principal of the OSIRIS-REx mission, in 2018.
The return trip to Earth will take approximately two years. The spacecraft will then eject a capsule containing the asteroid samples, which NASA says will land in a remote area of Utah.
NASA says the samples will be distributed to research labs around the world, but 75% of the samples will be kept at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for future generations to study with technologies not yet created.
The approximately $ 800 million minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin (NYSE :), launched in 2016 to collect and return America’s first sample of pristine asteroid material. Japan is the only other country to have accomplished such a feat.
Asteroids are part of the remaining debris from the formation of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. A sample could contain clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say.
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