A NASA spacecraft on Tuesday touched down on an asteroid that scientists believe could hold the building blocks of life.
The craft, OSIRIS-REx, successfully landed on the asteroid dubbed “Bennu” more than four years after being launched from Earth.
The van-sized machine quickly managed to fulfill its primary mission of collecting almost two ounces worth of samples before lifting off again, according to CNN.
“After over a decade of planning, the team is overjoyed at the success of today’s sampling attempt,” Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission said.
NASA confirmed the touchdown around 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday while live-tweeting and using CGI animation to show the OSIRIS-REx’s decent.
“Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event — the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team.”
Bennu, which is more than 200 million miles away from the Earth and as tall as the Empire State Building, has attracted scientific attention due to the presence of carbon-bearing materials — a key building block of life — on the asteroid’s surface.
“The fact that we safely and successfully touched the surface of Bennu, in addition to all the other milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testament to the living spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets of the solar system,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington.
The OSIRIS-REx is expected to remain orbiting Bennu until 2021 and then return to Earth with its samples in 2023.
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