Artist's impression of NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft above the asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA Spacecraft Carrying Alien Material From Asteroid is Returning to Earth—10 Things You Should Know

Scientists intend to learn more about how the Solar System was formed and how the Earth developed.


NASA’s probe Osiris-Rex completed its mission on the asteroid Bennu on May 10, left its orbit, and headed back. The probe must deliver a valuable cargo – a container with soil samples from the celestial body’s surface. It is expected that the return capsule will land in Utah on September 24, 2023.

10 Things you should know about the Osiris-Rex mission and its return journey

1. Osiris-Rex was launched into space in the autumn of 2016, and at the end of 2018 arrived at the 500-meter near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu, which is a rare class B asteroid.

2. Osiris-Rex is the most sophisticated reversible space expedition since the Apollo lunar program ended in the 1970s.

3. The station’s mission was to study Bennu from low orbit and obtain soil samples from its surface. The collected data should give scientists information about the processes that took place in the early solar system and the role of carbonaceous asteroids in the origin of life on Earth.

4. For 2.5 years of work near the asteroid, the station mapped it, determined its properties, found out that Bennu was active, found broken boulders, fragments of the asteroid West and organic matter on its surface, and also traced the course of its evolution.

This compilation of two images shows the surface of the asteroid Benu shortly before and after Osiris-Rex touched it in October. Credits: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona
This compilation of two images shows the surface of the asteroid Benu shortly before and after Osiris-Rex touched it in October. Credits: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

5. In October last year, the device took soil from the northern hemisphere of the asteroid. Despite the loss of part of the samples, the total mass of the collected material was more than the initial expectations of 60 grams. In total, the probe could return up to 2 kilograms of soil.

6. On May 10, 2021, OSIRIS-REx turned on its ion thrusters for 7 minutes, thus starting the return flight to Earth. The journey to our planet will take over two years, according to the NASA website.

7. Osiris-Rex’s path will not be direct. It will fly around the Sun twice covering more than 2.3 billion kilometers total.

8. It is expected that upon approaching our planet, the station will drop a reentry capsule into the atmosphere, which is to land at a test site in Utah on September 24, 2023, after which it will be delivered to the laboratory for autopsy.

9. After opening the capsule, the soil will be divided into several parts: for direct study, storage, and distribution to laboratories around the world.

10. The re-entry to Earth will be a complicated task and there are high chances for failure in the first attempt to release the capsule. If for some reason, Osiris-Rex fails, there will be a second attempt in 2025.

OSIRIS-REx is not the first mission to recover samples from an asteroid. In 2005, the Japanese apparatus Hayabusa made an almost successful attempt to collect samples from the asteroid Itokawa. The probe returned the capsule to Earth, which contained about 1500 micrograms of the asteroid’s substance which was much less than expected.

Then, in December last year, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully brought back samples from the asteroid Ryugu. In a similar way, it released a capsule into the atmosphere. Now, the Japanese spacecraft is on its way to two other asteroids and is scheduled to return in approximately 11 years.

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ABC News. (2021, May 11). NASA spacecraft that landed on an ASTEROID BEGINS journey home.
Bartels, M. (2021, May 10). NASA’s asteroid-sampling mission will bid farewell to asteroid bennu today.
Potter, S. (2021, May 10). NASA’s OSIRIS-REx SPACECRAFT heads for Earth with Asteroid sample.
Wall, M. (2020, October 26). NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is overflowing with Asteroid Samples.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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