NASA, unable to remove the remaining asteroid sample from the container, is working on new methods

The team will develop a new procedure to remove the remaining asteroid sample

Last month, a NASA capsule landed in the desert in the U.S. state of Utah, carrying back to Earth the largest collection of asteroid samples ever. On Oct. 11, NASA gave the world its first look at a sample of the asteroid Bennu, which scientists hope will provide clues about the early days of our solar system and possibly the origins of life. So far, the team has collected 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of rocks and dust removed from the sample hardware. According to NASA, these samples exceeded the mission’s goal of collecting 60 grams of debris from the asteroid.

There are still samples to collect, however, and teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) are now scrambling to open the vial.

Over the past week, the team on the OSIRIS-REx mission has been hard at work opening the TAGSAM head, which contains most of the rocks and dust collected by the spacecraft in 2020.

„After several removal attempts, the team found that two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team is working to develop and implement new approaches to extracting the material inside the head while keeping the specimen safe and beautiful. NASA wrote in a blog post.

The team will now spend the next few weeks developing and practicing a new procedure for removing the remaining asteroid sample from the TAGSAM sampling head, while simultaneously processing the material collected this week.

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”All curation work on the sample and TAGSAM head is done in a special glove box under a flow of nitrogen, which preserves the pristine condition of the sample for subsequent scientific analysis without exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere. Any proposed solution for extracting residual material from the head must have equipment that fits inside a glove box and does not compromise the scientific integrity of the collection, and any procedures must be consistent with clean room standards,” NASA added.

OSIRIS-REx is not the first mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and bring back samples for study — Japan has accomplished the feat twice, returning pieces of space pebbles in 2010 and 2020.

Notably, NASA chose to sample Bennu because it is believed to be rich in organic compounds. Scientists theorize that similar asteroids may have provided Earth with organic building blocks along with water through collisions billions of years ago.

While it is unlikely to hit Earth in the mid-2100s, the chances increase to 1 between 1750 and 2300, according to NASA.

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