Touch-and-go: NASA’s Osiris-Rex collect samples from asteroid Bennu

After orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touched down and reached out its robotic arm to collect a sample from the asteroid’s surface on Tuesday.

That sample will be returned to Earth in 2023.To achieve this historic first for NASA, a van-size spacecraft had to briefly touch down its arm in a landing site called Nightingale. The site is the width of a few parking spaces.

The agency will be able to confirm if a sample was successfully collected later and images of the event will be available Wednesday on NASA’s site.

“This was an incredible feat — and today we’ve advanced both science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient storytellers of the solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in a statement. “A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed our solar system’s entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.

Located more than 200 million miles from Earth, Bennu is a boulder-studded asteroid shaped like a spinning top and as tall as the Empire State Building. It’s a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object.

Since arriving at Bennu, the spacecraft and its cameras have been collecting and sending back data and images to help the team learn more about the asteroid’s composition and map the best potential landing sites to collect samples.

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