NASA Just Successfully Touched Down on an Asteroid

NASA just landed a spacecraft on an asteroid and, if everything went as planned, sucked up a sample of dust and rock from the surface.


From 200 million miles away, NASA and its engineering partner, Lockheed Martin, instructed the spacecraft to descend to the surface of a space rock called Bennu.


In just 5 to 10 seconds, the probe should have collected samples from the asteroid's surface. It's set to bring these pieces of Bennu back to Earth later.


OSIRIS-REx, as the spacecraft is known (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), completed this "touch-and-go" operation on Tuesday evening.


The spacecraft beamed back confirmation that it had landed on Bennu's surface. When the signal reached Earth at 6:11 pm ET, about 18 minutes after the actual touchdown, Mission Control erupted in cheers and applause.


"Transcendental. I can't believe we actually pulled this off," Dante Lauretta, the mission's principal investigator, said during NASA's live broadcast of the operation. "The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do."


It will take a few days to determine whether the probe picked up enough rock. The goal was to get at least one 2.1-ounce (60-gram) sample, which is about a small bag of potato chips' worth of mass.


OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018, scanning the asteroid and collecting as much data as possible. It's set to leave in March 2021, samples in tow, then reach Earth on September 24, 2023.


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