NASA’s First Asteroid Sample Has Landed, Now Secure in Clean Room


The sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Photo Credit: (NASA/Keegan Barber)

The sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

Credits: NASA/Keegan Barber

After years of anticipation and hard work by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) team, a capsule of rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu finally is on Earth. It landed at 8:52 a.m. MDT (10:52 a.m. EDT) on Sunday, in a targeted area of the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.

Within an hour and a half, the capsule was transported by helicopter to a temporary clean room set up in a hangar on the training range, where it now is connected to a continuous flow of nitrogen.

Getting the sample under a “nitrogen purge,” as scientists call it, was one of the OSIRIS-REx team’s most critical tasks today. Nitrogen is a gas that doesn’t interact with most other chemicals, and a continuous flow of it into the sample container inside the capsule will keep out earthly contaminants to leave the sample pure for scientific analyses.

The returned samples collected from Bennu will help scientists worldwide make discoveries to better understand planet formation and the origin of organics and water that led to life on Earth, as well as benefit all of humanity by learning more about potentially hazardous asteroids.

“Congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team on a picture-perfect mission – the first American asteroid sample return in history – which will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation. Not to mention, Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, and what we learn from the sample will help us better understand the types of asteroids that could come our way,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “With OSIRIS-REx, Psyche launch in a couple of weeks, DART’s one year anniversary, and Lucy’s first asteroid approach in November, Asteroid Autumn is in full swing. These missions prove once again that NASA does big things. Things that inspire us and unite us. Things that show nothing is beyond our reach when we work together.”

The Bennu sample – an estimated 8.8 ounces, or 250 grams – will be transported in its unopened canister by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday, Sept. 25. Curation scientists there will disassemble the canister, extract and weigh the sample, create an inventory of the rocks and dust, and, over time, distribute pieces of Bennu to scientists worldwide.

Today’s delivery of an asteroid sample – a first for the U.S. – went according to plan thanks to the massive effort of hundreds of people who remotely directed the spacecraft’s journey since it launched on Sept. 8, 2016. The team then guided it to arrival at Bennu on Dec. 3, 2018, through the search for a safe sample-collection site between 2019 and 2020, sample collection on Oct. 20, 2020, and during the return trip home starting on May 10, 2021.

“Today marks an extraordinary milestone not just for the OSIRIS-REx team but for science as a whole,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Successfully delivering samples from Bennu to Earth is a triumph of collaborative ingenuity and a testament to what we can accomplish when we unite with a common purpose. But let’s not forget – while this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it’s truly just the beginning of another. We now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyze these samples and delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system.”

After traveling billions of miles to Bennu and back, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released its sample capsule toward Earth’s atmosphere at 6:42 a.m. EDT (4:42 a.m. MDT). The spacecraft was 63,000 miles (102,000 kilometers) from Earth’s surface at the time – about one-third the distance from Earth to the Moon.

Traveling at 27,650 mph (44,500 kph), the capsule pierced the atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. EDT (8:42 a.m. MDT), off the coast of California at an altitude of about 83 miles (133 kilometers). Within 10 minutes, it landed on the military range. Along the way, two parachutes successfully deployed to stabilize and slow the capsule down to a gentle 11 mph (18 kph) at touchdown.

“The whole team had butterflies today, but that’s the focused anticipation of a critical event by a well-prepared team,” said Rich Burns, project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “For us, this was the World Series, ninth inning, bases-loaded moment, and this team knocked it out of the park.”

Radar, infrared, and optical instruments in the air and on the ground tracked the capsule to its landing coordinates inside a 36-mile by 8.5-mile (58-kilometer by 14-kilometer) area on the range. Within several minutes, the recovery team was dispatched to the capsule’s location to inspect and retrieve it. The team found the capsule in good shape at 9:07 a.m. MDT (11:07 a.m. EDT) and then determined it was safe to approach. Within 70 minutes, they wrapped it up for safe transport to a temporary clean room on the range, where it remains under continuous supervision and a nitrogen purge.

NASA Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona, Tucson leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Curation for OSIRIS-REx, including processing the sample when it arrives on Earth, will take place at NASA Johnson. International partnerships on this mission include the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter instrument from CSA (the Canadian Space Agency) and asteroid sample science collaboration with JAXA’s (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa2 mission. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To learn more about the asteroid sample recovery mission visit:


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Tom Halla
September 24, 2023 6:18 pm

Bennu looks like a rock glob, with very little cohesion. So attempts to move some asteroids might result in their breaking up.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 25, 2023 12:09 am

Exactly right…a very loosely bound pile of rubble as the gravity is so weak. If you gave it a good kick it would just fly apart and reassemble itself in a different configuration. Apparently you would also just sink into it if you stood or jumped onto it…the surface has been likened to a body of water…no strength at all despite looking quite solid.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 26, 2023 10:12 am

Not a dangerous asteroid, already broken up. Let’s get samples of solid type bodies that shudder the planet when they hit. Sampling will be more challenging. I guess these engineers still believe in the scientific method, unlike their gang green colleagues down the hall adjusting data to what they ‘feel’ it should be.

Leonard Weinstein
Reply to  Tom Halla
September 27, 2023 10:44 am

It likely has a solid core with a powder coat and loose rubble cover. There is no way a fully powder and rubble small asteroid can exist for any length of time. Any impact would disperse it.

Frank from NoVA
September 24, 2023 6:25 pm

Well done, NASA.

‘Within 70 minutes, they wrapped it up for safe transport to a temporary clean room on the range, where it remains under continuous supervision and a nitrogen purge.‘

Hopefully, the Feds keep a closer eye on the rocks than they did Jeffery Epstein.

No one
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 24, 2023 7:53 pm

Or the Navy on their jet fighters.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  No one
September 24, 2023 8:02 pm

It was the Marines, but they are part of the Navy

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Jim Masterson
September 25, 2023 7:39 am

Marines will tell you that the Navy is the transportation arm of the Marines.

Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 25, 2023 9:25 am

A few months ago, the FBI was investigating a company that rented out safe deposit boxes. As part of the investigation, the contents of all the safe deposit boxes in the facility were seized. Included in the seizure was a collection of rare coins owned by an elderly company. Like most of the depositors, the couple’s only relationship with the company was that safe deposit box.
A few days ago, the courts ordered the FBI to return the contents of the box to the couple.
At that point the FBI was forced to admit that they had lost all of the coins.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  MarkW
September 25, 2023 10:29 am

Well noted. I doubt that the FBI ‘lost’ that elderly couple’s property any more than they lost Epstein’s recordings and documents, or whatever else they found useful to keep their opponents and supporters in line. The FBI has certainly fallen since the days of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
September 26, 2023 12:03 am

“The FBI has certainly fallen since the days of Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.”

Back then I worked for the Navy Exchange while in college. The Navy Exchange was at Sand Point Naval Air Station on Lake Washington in Seattle. One weekend one of the outlying stores was broken into and robbed. At the time I told my boss, the Merchandise Manger, that the FBI would surely find the culpripts. I was aware of the abilities of the FBI and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. My boss sneered at my comments. He said the FBI only solves cases that are politically expedient. They won’t do anything about the robbery–and they didn’t. This was way back in the 1970’s. The FBI is even worse today.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Jim Masterson
September 26, 2023 8:54 am

Kudos to your former boss. At least back in the EZJ days, agents had to tool around by car or on foot to keep tabs on us. Nowadays, at least according to the current ‘FBI’ tv series, the action revolves around a room full of analysts pulling everyones information out of the cloud with nary a warrant in sight. Sad.

The Dark Lord
September 24, 2023 6:49 pm

OK that is the first chapter of the Andromeda Strain ..

Jim Masterson
Reply to  The Dark Lord
September 24, 2023 7:24 pm

It’s too bad Michael Crichton is no longer with us. He was a strong voice against this CC nonsense.

No one
Reply to  The Dark Lord
September 24, 2023 7:53 pm

Hopefully they’ll have better lasers to protect us. AI driven, of course.

Reply to  No one
September 25, 2023 5:25 pm

With something quantum of course,

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  The Dark Lord
September 25, 2023 10:33 pm

Curation scientists there will disassemble the canister, extract and weigh the sample, create an inventory of the rocks and dust, and, over time, distribute pieces of Bennu to scientists worldwide.”

I understand that some of the samples will be distributed to scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. What could go wrong?

Doug S
September 24, 2023 6:53 pm

This just in, ‘climate change seen as a risk to asteroids. Increased levels of carbon in earth’s atmosphere threaten to disrupt the millions of years of stable asteroid orbits.’

Jim Masterson
Reply to  Doug S
September 24, 2023 7:21 pm

It’s completely stupid, but it’s just what those knuckleheads might believe.

No one
Reply to  Jim Masterson
September 24, 2023 7:57 pm

It’s not whether they believe, but whether they see it as an opportunity to increase taxation and increase restrictions on the individual. Those knuckleheads.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  No one
September 24, 2023 8:00 pm

Yes, I (momentarily) forgot that those knuckleheads don’t really believe this crap. They just want more power (over us) and (our) wealth.

Reply to  Jim Masterson
September 25, 2023 5:56 am

Some of them truly believe!

September 24, 2023 7:54 pm

Note.. it was NOT the NASA climate group that did this !!

Reply to  bnice2000
September 25, 2023 7:00 am

Is the climate group named ‘NASA GISS‘ or ‘NASA GUESS‘?

/s. (Again, sarcasm. DON’T take this question literally b/c I know some of ‘you people’.)

Alexy Scherbakoff
September 24, 2023 8:08 pm

I hope no one has sex on the sample.

Paul Hurley
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
September 25, 2023 8:05 am

Can I identify as Asteroidal?

Dodgy Geezer
September 24, 2023 9:03 pm

What’s with this ‘first NASA Asteroid Sampling mission’? The Japanese did it a dozen years ago.

You might almost think that the commentators wanted to forget this….

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
September 24, 2023 9:53 pm

Valid point, Geezer. That is why they included the qualifier “NASA”. They did not say “mankind’s first Asteroid Sampling mission”. Instead they wanted to emphasize that is the first mission run by NASA. The Japanese did a fantastic job previously. NASA is following in their footsteps.

By the way, Psyche is being launched on October 5th. That will visit a true “metallic” asteroid, analogous to material in planetary cores, including the Earth. That is a NASA mission too and it could be amazing if it succeeds.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  vertex11
September 24, 2023 9:59 pm

“. . . if it succeeds.”

It’s always a complication when dealing with NASA.

Reply to  Jim Masterson
September 25, 2023 9:29 am

These missions are complex, there are 10’s of thousands of things that could go wrong and prevent a successful mission.

Jim Masterson
Reply to  MarkW
September 25, 2023 9:55 pm

Normally, I would agree. However, the fiasco of the Mars Climate Orbiter loss raises some interesting questions. You should read the IEEE Spectrum article about the loss (IEEE in my professional organization). I can’t prove it, but it looks like they had a bet that they could reach Mars with fewer TCMs. They canceled a TCM, when the indications were that the probe was veering further off course. Of course, they immediately blamed the contractor engineers–for wrong units. But foot-pounds and newtons are not an order-of-magnitude different. If you knew where your probe was, you could easily compensate.

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
September 25, 2023 9:28 am

Last time I checked, Japan is not part of NASA.

September 24, 2023 9:56 pm

What is that picture above the articles title? Is it an AI ‘artistic’ creation?

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  AndyHce
September 24, 2023 11:36 pm

That’s a great mosaic of several images from the spacecraft during its mapping phase. A great mission successfully carried out. Congratulations to all involved.

We need to understand the composition and physical properties of these objects and how to move them unless we want to end up like the dinosaurs. We’ve sampled three now and moved one around in space so we’re well on our way!

Pat Frank
Reply to  Alastair Brickell
September 25, 2023 7:07 am

By the late 22nd century, the most likely outcome of Bennu’s close approach is its capture and use as raw material for manufacture.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  Pat Frank
September 25, 2023 5:59 pm

Yes, we should be well able to deal with these things by then.

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
September 25, 2023 3:30 pm

What led me to question that picture is at the bottom, a little to the left of the lowest point. There are a couple of circular half rings projecting, on its left side and at the lower right corner, from that rather straight sided lump. Maybe there is another explanation but they look rather artificial, unlike any geological structure I know about. Surely they could not be created by rain and wind or an impact of rock against rock.

Even the scattered (gravel, boulders? I don’t know the scale) seem somewhat unlikely. No doubt Bennu has been floating around long enough to have experienced many impacts but with its very low gravity, could so many things have stuck to it? What geological processes could be producing so much differentiated material from the main body?

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  AndyHce
September 25, 2023 5:59 pm

I don’t see anything too unusual there…you might like to have a look at this flyover of it’s surface:

It’s low gravity can still be a big player when there’s no other attractive force around for bits of nearby debris. Given enough time it can collect lots of stuff…it’s about 500m across to give you some scale for the image above that you refer to.

It is all very loosely bound…you might well sink into it if you stood on it…some have likened it to a body of water made of rocks and pebbles.

As a geologist I’m happy to accept that my geological knowledge and ideas have been developed on a very different place from these asteroids…we have lots to learn…isn’t life wonderful!

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
September 25, 2023 7:53 pm

Sunlight has been known to induce electrostatic charges.

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
September 26, 2023 12:19 am

Maybe the gravel isn’t as peculiar as it appears to me. However, the “flyover” video does not, as far as I can tell, pay any attention to the largest item in this article’s top photo. That is the somewhat rectangular rock just left of the bottom-most point that is, based on 500 meters at the image center, around 50 meters on its longest axis. It is the largest individual “rock” in the photo.

I would probably not have seen the smooth curve, half circle projections on two sides if I had not zoomed in greatly to look at more details. Admittedly this does not give me as clear a view as the closeups of the several individual objects featured in the video, but still clear enough to see things I don’t know how to explain.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  AndyHce
September 26, 2023 1:48 am

Well, you will always have a ‘largest rock’ in any photo.

If you are still puzzled maybe go to a NASA website and look for it in other photos…it seems no more strange than the other rocks to me, but maybe I’m missing something. It’s a pretty weird universe out there! Life is always full of surprises…and unanswered questions.

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
September 26, 2023 5:08 pm

What you are missing is clearly reading my explanation of what seems strange to me. It is not the rock, it is the smooth, half circle projections that look like added on handles at two places. Are there comparable geological formations on earth, not created by moving wind and/or water?

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  AndyHce
September 27, 2023 1:28 am

I don’t see anything particularly unusual there…maybe a higher res image of the rock would useful…you might be able to find one on the NASA website. I just see shadows and illuminated rock fragments. Shadows can produce interesting and unexpected shapes…just ask all the Moon hoax and Face on Mars people!

Reply to  AndyHce
September 25, 2023 7:56 pm

Low gravity, with hundreds to millions of years to work, will attract a lot of material.
No geological processes necessary, just the collection of any rocks that passed to close.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  MarkW
September 26, 2023 1:48 am

Yes, gravity is pretty impressive…we mess with it at our peril!

Reply to  AndyHce
September 25, 2023 4:08 am

| What is that picture …
That is Asteroid Bennu!

| … AI ‘artistic’ creation
Here is a Generative AI description of Bennu, created by Google (& formatted by WordPress)

Asteroid Bennu is a small, near-Earth asteroid that was discovered in 1999. It’s about 0.5 kilometers in diameter, which is larger than 90% of asteroids. It’s comparable in size to the U.S. Capitol building. 

Bennu orbits the sun every 1.2 years and comes very close to Earth every 6 years. These close encounters give Bennu a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century. 

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission studied Bennu from 2018 to 2021. The mission involved collecting a sample from Bennu, making it one of three best-explored asteroids in the universe. 

Bennu is thought to be made up of material that is around 4.5 billion years old. If Bennu were to hit Earth, it would leave a crater 4 miles (6.4 km) wide and release an energy equivalent to 1,200 megatons of TNT. However, Bennu would not destroy the Earth or even the life on it. 

Reply to  Johanus
September 25, 2023 4:15 am

AI said “high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century, so I asked for a follow up on this, AI replied:
The asteroid Bennu has a small chance of hitting Earth in the next 300 years. The probability of a collision is about 1 in 1,750, or 0.057%. The highest probability of a collision is on September 24, 2182, when Bennu has a 1 in 2,700, or 0.037%, chance of hitting Earth. 

Hmm, I wouldn’t call ‘0.037%’ a ‘high probability’. (Unless I was an Alarmist).

Reply to  Johanus
September 25, 2023 9:32 am

Most known asteroids have 1 in a million type chances, or lower.

Reply to  MarkW
September 25, 2023 1:21 pm

| … 1 in a million …

Using that logic those 1-in-a-million asteroids have a “high probability of impacting Earth”, compared to the asteroids in orbit around Alpha Centauri.

Peta of Newark
September 25, 2023 12:58 am

quote:“”Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, an…””

Such are the hazards of 3 generations of having the human mind shrivelled via consumption of sugar = nothing could be more wrong.

Bennu is a lump of Pure, Solid Gold, 24-Carat Ambrosia – as far as Planet Earth is concerned. Bennu is one huge Vitamin and Trace-Element Pill – Bennu contains ALL the things that are now missing from Earth’s soils.
(They’re not really missing, just at the bottom of the sea that’s all)

It is a deficiency of those ‘little trace-element things‘ in all ours diets that has created not least, Climate Science, myriad sexual dysfunctions, drug addictions, autoimmune disorders, child & adult dementias and (for the US alone) a $4trillion annual healthcare bill

Bennu is not really all that big (78 million tonnes) but sufficient to turn about 100 square miles of sandy desert into a self-sustaining/repairing rainforest = a thing that makes its own climate.

(the stuff of) Bennu is what makes Global Greening yet such is the myopic & trivia-obsessed state of modern science, nobody will see that.
nobody. You don’t do you, you really think I’m crazy.
While unbelievably vast amounts of material identical to Bennu simply sit around on Planet Earth and are completely ignored.

If they remain ignored: Wrap up warm – that will be/is the lasting memory within the kids caught up in this year’s Burning haha Man Festival

If nothing else, donate the entire Bennu sample to the Idso father & son.
My brain aches wondering what they’ll make of it.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 25, 2023 1:25 am

I should have checked my email first – Just Get This For Ecological Insanity
(Only in Australia – they’re beyond help down there)

They are hereby actually proposing using (charred) coffee grounds to make concrete – all because of Methane and wild imaginings about CO₂ of global warming.
To the tune of One Bennu every eight years – ain’t that something?

It is because, The Very True and Absolute Definition of A Desert, any and all deserts e.g. Australia
A desert is a place with very low levels/amounts of soil organic material (SOM)

Just look what these crazed clowns do with some very valuable potential SOM – whether charred or not.
(In fact, the charred version would be preferable and have much longer lasting effect)
But no: Planet-wide madness means they either bury it or make it into concrete

This is True Insanity going on all around us.

Charred Bennu Grounds.PNG
Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 25, 2023 3:32 pm

I find various articles from early May, 2022, that NASA has grown plants in Lunar “soil”. The claim is that they grew, but not as well as in Terrestrial soil. However, long ago, not many years after the first lunar landing, I read a print article, perhaps in something like Science News Letter, that plants were grown with returned lunar dust added to the soil and that the plants grew ever so much more vigorously that the control samples without the Lunar dust.

There was nothing in the article to indicate a hoax, It was in a, at least then, reputable source, but I’ve could find nothing mentioning it today.

September 25, 2023 6:55 am

Lemme know if they find any foreign material like ‘plastics’ (from the floating ocean plastic isalnd) in that sample …


September 25, 2023 7:29 am

Getting this one pound of sand cost eighty million dollars.

Alastair Brickell
Reply to  Marty
September 25, 2023 4:39 pm

It’s cheap at twice the price…an amazing technological win for us all!

Andy Pattullo
September 25, 2023 9:36 am

There’s a vehicle you may want to check the odometer on before purchasing second hand. Not quite the same deal as a show room condition Chevy only used on Sundays to drive Granny to church.

September 25, 2023 8:19 pm

Hopefully this time it doesn’t turn out to be petrified wood.

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