This development marks a crucial step in the OSIRIS-REx mission, a project aimed at understanding the origins and evolution of our solar system. Asteroids like Bennu are considered to be the remnants of the early solar system, holding keys to unlocking its mysteries.
On January 10, the team overcame a notable challenge by successfully removing two stubborn fasteners that had been hindering the final steps of opening the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head. This mechanism, a pivotal part of the mission, was designed for collecting surface samples from Bennu without the need for the spacecraft to land on the asteroid.
The precision and care taken in this task are evident from the photograph captured by Erika Blumenfeld, the creative lead for the Advanced Imaging and Visualization of Astromaterials (AIVA), and Joe Aebersold, AIVA project lead. They utilized manual high-resolution precision photography and a semi-automated focus stacking procedure to produce an image showcasing extreme detail of the asteroid material.
Following this success, the next steps involve the meticulous process of transferring the sample from the TAGSAM head into pie-wedge sample trays. These trays will undergo detailed photography, and the samples will be weighed, packaged, and stored at the Johnson Space Center, home to the world's most extensive collection of astromaterials.
The sample material includes dust and rocks up to about 0.4 inch (one cm) in size. Impressively, the curation team has already collected 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of material from the sample hardware before the lid was removed, exceeding NASA's initial goal of retrieving at least 2.12 ounces (60 grams) of material from Bennu.
The final mass of the sample is set to be determined in the coming weeks, a critical piece of information that will further enhance our understanding of Bennu and its composition. The significance of these samples is not just in their quantity but also in the scientific value they hold.
Later this year, the curation team plans to release a catalog of all the Bennu samples. This catalog will open opportunities for scientists and institutions globally to request samples for research or display, facilitating a broader spectrum of scientific inquiry and understanding.
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