MYSTERY WIRE — A NASA spacecraft circling an ancient asteroid 200 million miles away is about to reach out and make contact.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to descend to the boulder-packed surface of asteroid Bennu on Tuesday and snatch a handful of rubble.
It will be America’s first crack at collecting asteroid samples for return to Earth, a feat accomplished so far only by Japan.
“By going and collecting the sample from Bennu, we’re reaching back in time,” said Beau Bierhaus, the Lockheed Martin scientist in charge of the mission’s Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM.
Bierhaus adds: “We’re getting material that we think is going to be carbon rich and representative of materials that were processed by water. And, of course, two of the big questions about the formation of life and the evolution of life on Earth, those are related to the presence of carbon and water.”
Scientists want to bring back at least 2 ounces worth of Bennu — about a handful’s worth.
The van-sized spacecraft is aiming for the relatively flat middle of a tennis court-sized crater named Nightingale.
Boulders as big as buildings loom over the targeted touchdown zone.
The samples won’t arrive on Earth until 2023.