NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes historic touchdown on asteroid Bennu

The mission is NASA’s first to retrieve a sample from the surface of an asteroid.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made its historic touchdown on asteroid Bennu Tuesday, retrieving a sample from the space rock that will be returned to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx reached the surface of Bennu at 6:11 p.m. EDT in a mission that NASA says will help unlock the secrets of the solar system. The “tag” or sample collection, was complete at 6:11 p.m. EDT and the spacecraft left the asteroid’s surface.

The Lockheed Martin-built van-sized spacecraft successfully reached a tennis court-sized crater named Nightingale. Boulders as big as buildings loomed over the touchdown zone. OSIRIS-REx used a robotic arm to grab the sample from Bennu, which is about 200 million miles from Earth.

“This is history, this is amazing,” said Dante Lauretta, Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator, just after touchdown. “It’s almost hard to process, everything that’s happening right now.”

The mission is NASA’s first to retrieve a sample from the surface of an asteroid.

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface.

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

OSIRIS-REx will also provide information that could help protect our planet from a possible collision with Bennu.

Bennu is about as tall as the Empire State Building, and could potentially threaten Earth in the next century, according to NASA. “Bennu has a 1:2700 chance of impacting Earth in the late 2100s, but this mission will also help us learn more about protecting ourselves if necessary,” the agency explains on its website.

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft reached Bennu in December 2018.

The craft is scheduled to depart Bennu next year and will deliver the asteroid sample to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

NASA recently revealed that parts of another asteroid, Vesta, have been spotted on the surface of Bennu.

In April 2019, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully “bombed” asteroid Ryugu in the name of scientific research.

Earlier in 2019, Hayabusa2 briefly touched down onto Ryugu and fired a scientific research “bullet” into the space rock.