NASA Finally Unlocks Asteroid Sample Stuck in Lock

(CNN) — NASA announced Thursday that after a month-long process, a sample of the valuable material from the asteroid has finally been released.

The space agency has already collected about 70 grams of rocks and dust during its OSIRIS-REx mission, which traveled nearly 6 billion kilometers to collect this unprecedented sample from a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu.

But in October, NASA reported that some of the material remained out of reach in a capsule hidden inside an instrument called the Touch-and-Go Sample Collection Mechanism, a robotic arm with a storage container at one end that collected the sample.

According to NASA, the sampler head is held closed by 35 latches, but two of them proved too difficult to open.

Freeing the mechanism is not an easy task. The space agency must use pre-approved materials and tools around the capsule to minimize the risk of damaging or contaminating samples.

NASA is stuck

On January 10, the OSIRIS-REx preservation team appears, attempting to remove one of the latches that was preventing the head of the Sensing Sample Collection Mechanism (TAGSAM) from fully opening. The instrument contained additional material from the asteroid Bennu. (Photo: Robert Markowitz/NASA)

These “new instruments also had to operate in the confined space of the glove box, which limited their height, weight and possible nose movement,” explained Dr. Nicole Lanning, head of OSIRIS-REx conservation at the Space Center, in a statement from NASA’s Johnson in Houston. “The medical team showed impressive resilience and did an incredible job of removing these persistent attachments from the TAGSAM head so we could continue disassembly. We are pleased with the success.”

To solve this problem, NASA said the two instruments were created from surgical steel, “the hardest metal approved for use in medical glove boxes.”

Before tackling the stuck fasteners, the Johnson Space Center team tested the tools in a “test lab,” slowly increasing the applied torque to ensure the new tools could successfully remove the inflexible fasteners.

What the asteroid sample has shown so far

NASA said Thursday afternoon that the material in the sample had not yet been detected. “There are still a few stages of disassembly remaining,” the space agency said. Once these steps are completed, the hidden cache can be photographed, retrieved and weighed, according to NASA.

Analysis of the Bennu material that NASA researchers collected last fall has already shown that samples from the asteroid contained large amounts of water in the form of hydrated clay minerals, as well as carbon.

Scientists believe signs of water on asteroids support the current theory of how it reached Earth billions of years ago.

“The reason the Earth is a habitable world, that we have oceans, lakes, rivers and rain, is because these clay minerals landed on the Earth between 4 and 4.5 billion years ago, making our world habitable.” , he told OSIRIS in October. – REx Chief Investigator Dante Lauretta. “So we’re studying how water got into the solid material.” Lauretta is a professor of planetary sciences and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona.

Some of Bennu’s previously collected samples have been hermetically sealed in storage containers for future research for decades, according to a NASA press release Thursday.

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