HOUSTON, Texas (ABC4) — OSIRIS-REx continues to astonish and surprise NASA scientists. The sample capsule from the spacecraft has been opened and NASA is reporting the curation process is taking longer than anticipated but for all the right reasons.
OSIRIS-REx released its sample capsule at the end of its seven-year journey from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu on Sept. 24. After the sample capsule made its way to the Utah desert floor it was whisked from Dugway Proving Grounds to Johnson Space Center in Houston. The sample was held in a nitrogen-rich environment until the canister was shifted into a unique glove box inside a new laboratory, at Johnson, designed specifically for the OSIRIS-Rex mission.
Scientists expected to see some particles from the asteroid on the outside of the sample collection head, called a TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), following its removal from the sample canister but were surprised to find more than anticipated.
“The very best ‘problem’ to have is that there is so much material, it’s taking longer than we expected to collect it,” said deputy OSIRIS-REx curation lead Christopher Snead of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “There’s a lot of abundant material outside the TAGSAM head that’s interesting in its own right. It’s really spectacular to have all that material there.”
The first sample taken from the exterior of the TAGSAM has been described as dark sand-like particles and is now having a “quick-look” analysis done by a team of scientists at Johnson Space Center. It will provide an initial understanding of the sample taken from Bennu’s surface three years ago.
The “quick-look” will utilize a scanning electron microscope, infrared measurements, and x-ray diffraction to examine the sample. The scientists will make chemical and physical analyses of the initial sample that will help lead to a better understanding of the full sample once the TAGSAM is opened and the bulk of the sample is accessed.
The process is slow and methodical by design. The curation team will be moving the sample into a different specialized glovebox, over the coming weeks, where they will disassemble the mechanism and reveal the bulk sample within. NASA will be unveiling the first public look at the sample on October 11 from Johnson Space Center at 11 a.m. EDT. The event will air live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the NASA website.