NASA Lands Spacecraft On Asteroid Traveling 63,000 MPH To Collect Samples


A real-life “Armageddon” has finally happened.

No, not the biblical last battle between good and evil before the Day of Judgment. The Hollywood version from the movie “Armageddon.”

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Tuesday swooped down to the asteroid Bennu, named the ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the Sun, creation, and rebirth. It is the first time any nation has landed a spacecraft on an asteroid.

The spacecraft dodged boulders the size of buildings and hovered to collect samples from the surface for several seconds before safely backing away Tuesday evening, The Daily Mail reported.

“The meticulous descent took 4.5 hours and by 6:12 p.m. the spacecraft made touchdown where its 11-foot robotic arm acted like a pogo stick and bounced on the asteroid’s surface to collect dirt and dust before the craft launched back into space. The crucial minutes in the mission started around 5: 38 p.m. when the spacecraft extended its arm and cameras toward the asteroid’s surface. By 6 p.m. OSIRIS-REx made matchpoint burn, the spacecraft’s key final maneuver performed by firing its thrusters to match Bennu’s spin to center itself exactly over the landing spot.”

The asteroid, officially known as 101955 Bennu, has a 1-in-2,700 chance of hitting Earth between 2175 and 2199. Bennu, which has a diameter of 1,610 feet, was discovered in 1999 and has since been observed extensively with the Arecibo Observatory planetary radar and the Goldstone Deep Space Network. “It is a potentially hazardous object that is listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale,” Wikipedia writes.

“Transcendental. I mean, I can’t believe we actually pulled this off,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, said after the landing was complete.

“After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today’s sampling attempt,” Lauretta said in a statement. “Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event — the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the mass of sample collected.”

The asteroid, which is hurtling through space at 63,000 miles per hour, “contains material from the early solar system and could provide insight into the origin of life on Earth,” the Mail wrote.

“The asteroid has undergone very little alteration since the birth of the solar system and so we can have an idea of what the conditions were like 4.5 billion years ago and how it produced the eight planets we know today,” Dr. Ben Rozitis from the U.K. Open University told the BBC.

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, likened Bennu to the Rosetta Stone, saying it is “something that’s out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system, during the last billions of years.”

With samples collected, the van-sized spacecraft will now return to earth and will be back in 2023.

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