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OSIRIS-REx to snag asteroid soil samples Tuesday

Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:46 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s go time!

The University of Arizona and NASA are on the verge of making history as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft plans to touch an asteroid on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 20.

Teams have been working on this mission for the last 10 years, but the few seconds OSIRIS-REx spends on Bennu could help us protect the planet from potential impact hundreds of years down the road.

How does it work?

The spacecraft has been pre-loaded with sequences and cameras.

Once it’s launched to Nightingale, the targeted spot, it will spend 4.5 hours going through the programmed “tag sequence” to officially leave orbit and descend onto Bennu’s surface.

That’s when it gets difficult because the asteroid’s surface is rocky and dangerous.

Team members said it’s like parking an SUV in a space for a compact car.

But it must be done so they can collect these soil samples, marking the first time in NASA’s history.

“Our main objective is to study the origins of the solar system. That is our main scientific objective. We all want to know, where did we come from and possibly where are we going? So we’re exploring the past and securing our future,” OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos said.

Enos added that there will be checkpoints along the way to make sure everything is safe and working.

The spacecraft will have three chances to collect a soil sample of Bennu.

So if things go wrong, the team can easily make another attempt as soon as mid-December.

If there are bigger issues, they can make another possible attempt in mid-January.

But even after getting the soil sample, there’s still a lot of work to do.

Teams will spend the next 10 days doing some additional observation and imaging to confirm a good sample was collected and the spacecraft can stow it until it returns to earth.

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