Measuring approximately 500 meters in diameter, Bennu has long been of interest to scientists because of its potential to teach us more about the earliest days of the solar system.
It is currently being visited by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft which arrived in orbit around the space rock in December 2018 with the ultimate goal of retrieving a sample for further study.
Now, much to the relief of the mission team back home, the probe has succeeded in pulling off a daring landing maneuver which saw it descend towards the asteroid, briefly make contact, then return to a safe distance with its newly acquired cargo of dust and rocks from the asteroid’s surface in tow.
“I can’t believe we actually pulled this off,” said lead scientist Dante Lauretta.
“The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”
The next step of the mission will be to determine just how much material the probe managed to pick up during its brief rendez-vous. If it failed to acquire any, another landing attempt may be needed.
Whatever samples it does collect will be returned to the Earth in 2023.
“We are on the way to returning the largest sample brought home from space since Apollo,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“If all goes well, this sample will be studied by scientists for generations to come.”
The back-away burn is complete 🛑✅ I'm now moving to a safe distance away from Bennu. pic.twitter.com/bXk2ufSneS
— NASA's OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) October 20, 2020