NASA's OSIRIS-REx heads back to Earth on 2-year journey after collecting samples from asteroid Bennu

NASA's first asteroid sample mission is now on its way home from Bennu – but talk about a long trip – the journey is expected to take about two years.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) collected asteroid samples that can provide many answers for scientists.

It was definitely a bittersweet moment, as the mission in space is coming to a close. Now the next step is to study the samples that were collected once the OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth.

"So today, we decided that it was time to turn the spacecraft towards Earth, fire up our main engines and give it a big push to get ready to come home," said Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona.

A time capsule in time is how Enos explains Bennu, an asteroid chosen because of its location.

"Through the spectral data that we took while we were at venue, as well as the imaging campaign, we have really measured high organic composition on the surface as well as quite a bit of hydrated materials, like water. We have carbonaceous material and we have water and together, those do form life. So we will be able to see those materials and its pristine state which we have not done before."

It was the first asteroid return mission for NASA. The University of Arizona is responsible for the overall success of the mission. Planning began in 2011, followed by the launch in 2016, arriving at Bennu in December 2018, and then scooping up samples in October 2020. But the mission isn't over yet.

"Getting it into the laboratories in and being able to look at it at the atomic scale and feel it, smell it, taste it if you want to.. you don't get that opportunity very many times in terms of science and that level of detail," said Enos.

OSIRIS-REx is expected to land at the Utah Test and Training Range in September 2023.

Continuing coverage of the OSIRIS-REx probe:

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