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OSIRIS-REx: Examining NASA’s first captured asteroid sample

Originally aired on: March 26, 2024

Scientists around the world are examining samples captured from an asteroid after a journey of more than 1 billion miles. In this episode of Start Here for Space, Space Foundation talks to Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the asteroid mission OSIRIS-REx about how this mission will inform future explorations and help establish sample cataloging guidelines for lunar exploration, too.

In September 2023, the NASA spacecraft successfully returned to Earth a sample of rocks and dust from the surface of the asteroid Bennu after a seven-year journey.

Sample return and diplomacy

In January, NASA scientists fully opened the return capsule to discover OSIRIS-REx had captured 121 grams of carbonaceous asteroid material – more than twice the mission requirement. By studying this, the research team hopes to better understand the formation of our solar system and potentially the origins of life on Earth. So far, the team has found the sample to be very high in carbon and oxygen – potentially the most carbon-rich sample ever captured.

An international collaboration, portions of the sample also were sent to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. Soon, the entire sample catalog will be available for examination by any qualified researcher.

“The diplomacy is where this is really important,” Lauretta said. “When we do planetary exploration missions, we’re thinking beyond our planet. And for me, that means beyond all the petty grievances and all of the conflict that we go through squabbling over pieces of this world. You start to see it’s actually a really small place in a really big solar system… It brings people together with that cosmic perspective to hopefully understand we’re all in this together.”

Collier Award winners

For their efforts, the National Aeronautic Association awarded NASA and the OSIRIS-REx team the Robert J. Collier Trophy on March 25, 2024. NAA grants this award to what it determines is “the greatest achievement in aerospace and astronautics in America.” The OSIRIS-REx team joins the likes of the Apollo 11 crew and the Hubble Telescope team in earning this award.

View a sample from OSIRIS-Rex

The public can view portions of the OSIRIS-REx sample at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., Space Center Houston and the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum in Tucson.

Science sessions at 39th Space Symposium

Want more discussion about space science and exploration? The 39th Space Symposium offers several sessions that are available on live stream through virtual registration. Registration is free for active-duty military and deeply discounted for government registrants.

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