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OSIRIS-REx Mission: Initial lid removed, exposes black dust and debris

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Scientists found black dust and debris on the avionics deck of the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft on Tuesday, after the initial lid was removed, according to a report from the US space agency NASA. The spacecraft safely returned to Earth and landed in the Utah desert on Sunday, delivering a sample from asteroid Bennu.

Researchers removed the lid of the sample return canister on Tuesday.(NASA)
Researchers removed the lid of the sample return canister on Tuesday.(NASA)

It was then transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. According to the space agency, this centre is home to the world’s largest collection of astromaterials and a team of experts specialising in preservation. The researchers here will be responsible for carefully disassembling the instrument Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to access the bulk sample within the capsule. This work is being conducted in a specially designed laboratory for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The removal of the aluminum lid took place within a glovebox created for handling large pieces of equipment, the NASA’s report further said.

Once the TAGSAM is separated from the canister, it will be placed in a sealed transfer container to maintain a nitrogen environment for approximately two hours. This container allows the team to move the TAGSAM into another specialised glovebox, which speeds up the disassembly process.

Here’s how NASA is planning to analyse the sample

-The team will work in a special room at Johnson for Bennu samples. This room has custom glove boxes designed to hold the canister with the TAGSAM head, which is a part of the robotic arm. The TAGSAM head is like the hand at the end of a robot arm. It picked up rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu on October 20, 2020.

-Scientists and technicians have practiced these tasks for many months and are ready to follow the steps to take out the sample from the TAGSAM.

-First, they will put the canister in the glove box and take it apart. Then, they will remove the TAGSAM head. This is where most of the sample is expected to be. They will keep a record and store every piece of equipment and dust from the asteroid that they find.

-Researchers aimed to study the asteroid dust after they first take it apart. This will give them an early look at the chemical, mineral, and physical traits, as well as the types of rocks that might be in the larger sample.

Sample to be revealed on Oct 11, will be livesteamed

A team of scientists and engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, with a variety of experts, will collaborate to take apart the sample. They will unveil this sample to the public during a special live broadcast event on October 11, which will also be livestreamed on NASA’s official website at NASA.gov/live.

The first-ever US asteroid sample, brought back by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, will receive the necessary care, be stored securely, and made available to scientists from around the world for their research.

OSIRIS-REx

The OSIRIS-REx mission by NASA, marking the first endeavour to gather an asteroid sample, made a successful return to Earth on Sunday (September 24), seven years after it was launched on September 8, 2016.

This capsule in the spacecraft contains untouched material from asteroid Bennu, comprising rocks and dust collected from the asteroid’s surface back in 2020. The sample will serve as a valuable window for scientists of future generations, offering insights into the period approximately 4.5 billion years ago when the Sun and planets were in the process of forming.

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