NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flung a capsule the size of a car tire onto a bombing range in Utah on Sunday, delivering safely to Earth a sample of the intriguing and potentially hazardous asteroid Bennu.
The capsule, released four hours earlier by the spacecraft, parachuted onto the muddy Utah Test and Training Range. Recovery teams in four helicopters raced to the landing site in a carefully rehearsed effort designed to bag the capsule quickly to lower the risk of contamination and then spirit it to a hangar on a military base. It will be flown Monday to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Texas for future scientific study.
Mission managers, pleased with the trajectory of the spacecraft, voted early Sunday morning to proceed with releasing the capsule, which spent four hours nearing Earth before plunging into the atmosphere. The parent spacecraft then fired thrusters to ensure that it would not wind up in Utah, but would instead move on to another target, the asteroid Apophis, with a scheduled encounter in 2029.