NASA Releases Trapped Asteroid Sample After Months of Persistence

HOUSTON — After a monthslong process, NASA announced on Thursday that it has finally released invaluable material sampled from an asteroid. Two stubborn fasteners had trapped the material, but the space agency was able to overcome the challenge.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission collected about 2.5 ounces of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. The spacecraft traveled nearly 4 billion miles before landing in the Utah desert, where the sample was collected. However, in October, NASA revealed that some material remained out of reach in a capsule hidden inside the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism.

Opening the capsule proved to be a complex and delicate task. NASA had to use preapproved materials and tools to avoid damaging or contaminating the samples. Dr. Nicole Lunning, the OSIRIS-REx curation lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, praised the curation team’s resilience in overcoming the challenge. “We are overjoyed with the success,” she said.

To address the issue, NASA created two tools from surgical steel, the hardest metal approved for use in the pristine curation gloveboxes. The tools went through extensive testing in a rehearsal lab to ensure they could successfully remove the stubborn fasteners.

As of Thursday afternoon, the trapped sample material had not yet been revealed. NASA stated that a few additional disassembly steps remain before the hidden cache can be photographed, extracted, and weighed. The previous analysis of material harvested from Bennu revealed the presence of abundant water in the form of hydrated clay minerals and carbon. Scientists believe that these findings support the theory of how water arrived on Earth billions of years ago.

Some of the previously harvested Bennu samples have been hermetically sealed in storage containers for future study over the course of decades, according to NASA.

In summary, NASA has successfully released valuable material sampled from the asteroid Bennu after overcoming the challenge posed by two stubborn fasteners. The samples, which had been trapped in a capsule, will now undergo further examination and analysis to gain a better understanding of the asteroid’s composition and its implications for our understanding of water’s arrival on Earth.