After removing the final two stabilizers from the box and about 4 months after it was dropped in the Utah desert by OSIRIS-REx, NASA's processing team finally revealed the remaining sample from asteroid Bennu.
The last two stabilizers were removed on January 10, allowing the team to complete the final steps of opening the touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism (TAGSAM) head, and finally providing access to the remaining sample. Before removing the lid, the team had already collected 70.3 grams (2.48 ounces) of asteroid material.
Creative Lead Erika Blumenfeld and Project Leader Joe Aebersold of the Advanced Astromaterials Imaging and Visualization team captured the image above, providing a highly detailed top-to-bottom view of the sample using high-resolution manual microphotography and a semi-automated focus grouping procedure.
The next step for the regulation team will be to remove the metal collar surrounding the tray and then prepare the glove box that will be used to transfer the sample from the TAGSAM head to the sample trays. The trays will then be photographed and weighed, before being packed and stored at NASA's Johnson Space Center.
It's been a long road to get to this point. OSIRIS-REx successfully dropped the capsule containing the Bennu sample in September 2023, but trying to get into the package inside proved more difficult than expected. Two of the fasteners could not be removed so the team had to come up with a new game plan. Eventually, on January 10 of this year, the issue was resolved.
“Our engineers and scientists have worked tirelessly behind the scenes for months to not only process the more than 70 grams of material we previously had access to, but also to design, develop and test new tools that have allowed us to overcome this hurdle,” said Eileen Stansbury, head of ARES Research. and Astromaterials Exploration) at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in a talk statement.
“The innovation and dedication of this team has been amazing. We are all excited to see the remaining treasure that OSIRIS-REx holds.”
Although part of the sample is already available for the general public to view, it will be some time before we know the full details of what the sample will say about asteroid Bennu. The coming weeks will give the team a chance to evaluate the final mass of the sample, which has already exceeded their goal of 60 grams (2.12 ounces). The catalog of all Bennu samples is expected to be released later this year.
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