Collecting samples from space might be thought to be the most complicated part of an asteroid mission, but in reality, the real challenge lies in opening the sample container upon return to Earth. The phase took nearly three months, but NASA removed two fasteners that were blocking access to a core sample collected from the asteroid Bennu by its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Initially, NASA was able to collect a few ounces of asteroid material found on the outside of the touch-and-go mechanism (TAGSAM), but its internal contents were sealed due to two problems with 35 fasteners. The mechanism is housed in a special glove box to avoid sample contamination, and only specific instruments are allowed to be used with it. None of the available tools could remove the stubborn fasteners from the TAGSAM head, so the team had to develop new tools with diligent and meticulous efforts.
“There are design challenges associated with the limited materials used to preserve the scientific value of the samples, as well as the need for reduced length and weight and increased capacity and performance for these new instruments to operate within the limited space of a glove box,” according to Dr. Nicole Luning, Superintendent of OSIRIS-REx.
Now that the TAGSAM leader has been freed, the team can move forward with opening the container — meaning revealing its contents soon. NASA's preliminary estimates of the dust and rocks coming out of TAGSAM indicate the presence of carbon and water, and this could open a new door to exciting scientific discoveries about the history and formation of the Solar System.
K: What is the main goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission?
A: The main goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to collect samples from the surface of the asteroid Bennu and return them to Earth to study the history of planet formation and the origin of the Solar System.
K: What does the presence of carbon and water in the collected samples indicate?
A: The presence of carbon and water in collected samples may be an indication of the past or future presence of organic matter and habitable conditions in other galaxies and other celestial bodies.