‘We’re holding our breath’: Scientists await the arrival of OSIRIS-REx back to Earth

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 5:47 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 23, 2023 at 7:33 AM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - After decades of planning and a seven-year journey to space, we are less than a day away from seeing the University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx mission return to Earth with asteroid samples that could give us answers about the beginning of life.

“It’s a homegrown Tucson, University of Arizona mission with our partners, but it means a lot to the local community too,” University of Arizona Assistant Professor Jessica Barnes said, “we feel like we’re bringing the mission home by bringing the samples back to the university.”

For the last seven years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has traveled tens of thousands of miles to the asteroid Bennu and grabbed rock samples.

Scientists believe that rock contains material left over from when the planets in our solar system were formed billions of years ago, and in just a few days, they’ll know for sure.

“We know the asteroid is carbon enriched,” NASA Research Scientist Noah Petro said, “but we don’t know how much amino acids could be found, different chemistries that may be found and found their way early into earth’s history to seed basically the foundation of life.”

But until then, they’re playing the waiting game.

“We’re a little bit tired in the run-up to get everything ready, excited, also a little bit stressed and anxious,” Barnes said, “but I think we’re all just ready to have those samples be on the ground.”

The capsule carrying those asteroid samples will arrive at the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert on Sunday morning at 7:55 a.m. Tucson time. Scientists will retrieve it and send the samples to the Johnson Space Center to be preserved and curated for scientists.

While they plan to analyze these samples for the next two years, their impact will go far beyond that time frame.

“There are going to be scientists that are born on Sunday,” Petro said. “I have no doubt that there’s someone going to be born on Sunday the day these samples return and will develop a career, an interest in science and will one day analyze the samples that come back using techniques that have yet to be developed and answer questions that have yet to be asked.”

Be sure to subscribe to the 13 News YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/@13newskold