NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission is set to make an extraordinary return to Earth, offering a remarkable celestial gift in the form of an untouched sample collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. This much-anticipated event is scheduled to unfold on Sunday, with the Osiris-Rex capsule hurtling towards our planet at a mind-boggling speed, surpassing 15 times the velocity of a rifle bullet.
As the capsule plunges through Earth’s atmosphere, it will create a spectacular fireball illuminating the skies. However, the presence of a heat shield and parachutes will play a pivotal role in decelerating its descent, ensuring a gentle touchdown in Utah’s West Desert.
The primary objective of this mission is to safely deliver approximately 8.8 ounces of asteroid rocks and soil from Bennu, contained within the capsule, to a designated landing site in the Utah desert. NASA plans to broadcast a live stream of this awe-inspiring sample delivery event, commencing at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday. The capsule is anticipated to make its entry into Earth’s atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. ET, hurtling through space at a staggering speed of around 27,650 miles per hour (44,498 kilometers per hour). Approximately 13 minutes later, it will make its graceful landing in the Utah desert.
Once the capsule has been released, Osiris-Rex will continue its mission to explore the mysteries of the solar system, setting its sights on another asteroid known as Apophis.
Contained within the capsule is a truly invaluable cargo—a handful of dust and material collected from the surface of asteroid Bennu, a celestial body of mountainous proportions. This material holds the potential to answer some of the most profound questions about our cosmic origins, shedding light on the very essence of our existence.
Professor Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of this mission, expresses the significance of this venture, stating, “When we get the 250g (9oz) of asteroid Bennu back on Earth, we’ll be looking at material that existed before our planet, maybe even some grains that existed before our Solar System.” The prevailing scientific notion is that many essential elements necessary for Earth’s formation were brought to our planet during its early history through impacts from asteroids, akin to Bennu.
The Osiris-Rex team has meticulously coordinated the spacecraft’s trajectory for this critical phase of the mission. Now, the only remaining decision is the “go, no-go” call to release the capsule, which will return to Earth this weekend.
In the grand scheme of cosmic exploration, this mission represents a profound endeavor to unravel the enigmatic origins of our world. It seeks answers to pivotal questions regarding the Earth’s formation, its habitability, the source of its water bodies, the composition of its atmosphere, and the origin of the organic molecules that underpin all life on our planet.