Finally, NASA engineers and space fanatics are getting a close-up view of the recent sample taken from asteroid Bennu. The agency experienced a nearly three-month setback when two jammed fasteners obstructed their efforts to open the lid of the asteroid sample capsule.
In 2020, the OSIRIS-REx mission successfully collected rocks and dust, known as regolith, from the surface of Bennu and transported it across 200 million miles back to Earth.
However, the astromaterials curation team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has recently completed the disassembly of the OSIRIS-REx sampler head, thereby revealing the remaining asteroid Bennu sample.
On January 10, the team triumphed in removing two stubborn fasteners, which had previously hindered the opening of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head.
Erika Blumenfeld, the creative lead for the Advanced Imaging and Visualization of Astromaterials (AIVA), and Joe Aebersold, the AIVA project lead, have now captured a detailed image of the open TAGSAM head, showcasing the asteroid material inside. This was achieved using manual high-resolution precision photography and a semi-automated focus stacking technique.
“The resulting image displays an extraordinary level of detail of the sample,” NASA wrote in its latest blog update.
Moving forward, the curation team will extract the round metal collar and prepare a glovebox to transfer the remaining sample from the TAGSAM head into pie-wedge sample trays. These trays will be photographed before the sample is weighed, packaged, and stored at Johnson, which houses the largest collection of astromaterials globally.
The residual sample material consists of dust and rocks, some up to approximately 0.4 inches (one centimeter) in size. The final mass of the sample will be determined in the upcoming weeks.
Prior to removing the lid, the curation team members had already retrieved 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of asteroid material from the sample hardware, exceeding NASA’s target of obtaining at least 2.12 ounces (60 grams).
Later this year, the curation team plans to release a catalog of all the Bennu samples, enabling scientists and institutions worldwide to request these samples for research or exhibition purposes.
South West News Service writer Dean Murray contributed to this report.