NASA is running late in its efforts to share 4.5-billion-year-old dust samples with researchers, blaming the delay on its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft returning more material than expected.
Launched in 2016, the probe was the space agency’s first-ever mission to fetch ancient rocks from an asteroid. OSIRIS-REx came equipped with a robotic arm to pick up regolith from the surface of Bennu, stowing it away in its TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head.
The probe performed its sample collection maneuver in 2020. Mission control already knew back then that it was carrying much more than the 60 grams of dust and rock NASA hoped to collect, after the TAGSAM leaked material. The probe successfully returned the sample to Earth and landed in a desert in Utah last month.
Now, officials are proceeding slowly to ensure they doesn’t lose any of the precious matter. But dust on the outside of the capsule is complicating their task.
“The very best ‘problem’ to have; is that there is so much material, it’s taking longer than we expected to collect it,” explained deputy OSIRIS-REx curation lead Christopher Snead, in a statement. “There’s a lot of abundant material outside the TAGSAM head that’s interesting in its own right. It’s really spectacular to have all that material there.”
All this means that scientists hoping to get their hands on the billion-year-old dust samples will have to wait longer than expected, as NASA works to extract and analyze the material. Researchers will take a closer look at the dark particles that are sticking to the inside of the TAGSAM’s canister lid and base first, while the bulk of the sample is stored safely inside the canister.
“We have all the microanalytical techniques that we can throw at this to really, really tear it apart, almost down to the atomic scale,” said Lindsay…