NASA celebrated an important achievement after an arduous fight against two screws that hindered the opening of the capsule containing samples from the asteroid Bennu . This victory comes after the failure of the Peregrino module ‘s lunar mission a few days ago and the announcement of delays in other trips to the Moon.
The agency’s engineers have finally managed to access all the material collected during the OSIRIS-REx mission , which returned to Earth in September 2023.
Of the 35 screws sealing the asteroid’s material, two had problems opening the capsule safely. Instead of forcing the opening, the US agency spent months developing new tools that could solve the challenge.
Had it not been successful, NASA would have had to settle for the few samples of asteroid dust that were attached to the capsule, a total of just 70 grams of Bennu material. It should be noted that this asteroid, in addition to being potentially dangerous, is as old as the solar system, which makes it a valuable source of information about its formation and evolution.
“Our engineers and scientists have worked tirelessly for months to not only process the more than 70 grams of material we were previously able to access, but also to design, develop and test new tools that allowed us to overcome this obstacle.“explained Eileen Stansbery, division head of ARES (Astromaterials Exploration and Research Science) at Johnson through the NASA statement.
How did they open the capsule with the samples from the asteroid Bennu?
Although there are a few final steps left to completely disassemble the capsule and access its contents, the most challenging part of the process has already been completed.
These newly created tools include specially manufactured drill bits made from a specific grade of non-magnetic surgical stainless steel, the strongest material approved for use in clean room environments.
Before applying these tools to the capsule, NASA conducted extensive testing to ensure that they would not affect the material stored inside. All of this work was carried out in a clean room to avoid any contamination of the contents of the asteroid being examined.
After a seven-year space journey to reach Bennu and several months of uncertainty in NASA laboratories, scientists will finally be able to analyze samples from this asteroid that is less than half a kilometer in diameter. Additional knowledge about this asteroid will contribute to the understanding of the solar system and will allow the development of plans to protect Earth from possible asteroid impacts.
On the other hand, the OSIRIS-REx probe is on its way to a new target : the asteroid Apophis and has been renamed OSIRIS-APEX. It will approach the asteroid as it passes within 38,000 kilometers of Earth, but before arriving, it must get closer to the Sun and face higher temperatures than anticipated when it was originally designed.
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