Osiris-Rex, NASA's first asteroid sample collecting spacecraft, is on its way back to Earth after leaving for Asteroid Bennu in 2016. It took 2 years to get there and the same for readying the craft to collect samples. Planetary Scientist Dr. Jessica Barnes says NASA's Johnson Space Center (near Houston) will play a major roll. "75% of the samples will be retained by NASA's Johnson Space Center near Houston for future generations. So there may be listeners or their grandchildren or even those who aren't even born yet who will work on these samples for years to come."
She says they have already found surprises from the photos Osiris-Rex sent back. For example, they thought the asteroid surface would be smooth. " 'We' got there and there were rocks and boulders the size of cars and houses! We weren't expecting that!"
Dr. Barnes chronicles the launch in 2016, arrival at Asteroid Bennu in 2018, and was able to collect samples in 2020. She explains why this mission is so important: "I think asteroids represent the building blocks of our solar system...the left over pieces from planet formations. So they are really time capsules for us to understand how the solar system formed, evolved, how old it is..."
In the last months it has collected more samples than it can carry back. Once back on earth in 2023, Houston's Johnson Space Center will host 75% of the samples and study them for decades to come. It will take Osiris-Rex 2 years to return home.