In the vast expanse of space, the OSIRIS-REx mission stands as a testament to human curiosity and our drive to explore the unknown. From understanding the origins of our solar system to potential resource identification.

The OSIRIS-REx Mission: An Overview

The OSIRIS-REx mission, initiated by NASA, is a remarkable endeavor in the realm of space exploration. Its name, an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, aptly summarizes its ambitious goals. At its core, the mission sought to delve into the origins of our solar system. Interpret the spectral signatures of asteroid Bennu, identify potential resources, ensure planetary security, and explore the regolith or the loose surface material of the asteroid.

The journey of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is a testament to human engineering and perseverance. Launched in 2016, it embarked on a path set for Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid. By 2018, the spacecraft had successfully entered Bennu’s orbit, marking a significant achievement in its voyage. The pinnacle of this mission was reached in 2020 when OSIRIS-REx collected a sample from the asteroid’s surface.

The sheer scale of this mission becomes evident when one considers the distances involved. The spacecraft traveled an astounding 3.86 billion miles to reach Bennu and make its journey back to Earth. This monumental distance, covered over several years, underscores the mission’s complexity and the dedication of the teams involved.

The Historic Sample Return

The return of the OSIRIS-REx sample to Earth is not just a scientific achievement, but a historic moment. The process was meticulously planned and executed. After collecting the sample from Bennu, the spacecraft embarked on its journey back to Earth. As it approached our planet, a sample capsule was released, containing the precious fragments of the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx: NASA's Historic Journey to Asteroid Bennu and Back
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)

This capsule made its descent towards Earth, specifically targeting the vast expanses of the Utah desert. The successful touchdown was a culmination of years of planning, coordination, and technological innovation.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson eloquently captured the essence of this achievement, stating, “Congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team. You did it. It brought something extraordinary, the largest asteroid sample ever received on Earth. This mission proves that NASA does big things, things that inspire us, things that unite us. It wasn’t mission impossible. It was the impossible that became possible.”

But the journey of OSIRIS-REx doesn’t end with this triumphant return. The spacecraft is now set on a new course, with its sights on another celestial body – the asteroid Apophis. This next mission, named OSIRIS-APEX, aims to further our understanding of asteroids and their place in the cosmos.

Post-Landing Activities

Following the historic landing of the OSIRIS-REx sample capsule in the Utah desert, a flurry of activities ensued. Marking the beginning of a new phase in the mission.

Immediately after the landing, specialized recovery and research teams were dispatched to the site. Their primary objective was to secure the capsule and ensure its integrity. With helicopters aiding in the swift transportation of these teams, they meticulously assessed the landing site and the condition of the capsule. Ensuring that it had not been compromised during its descent.

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Curation teams process the sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission in a cleanroom, 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)

Maintaining the sample’s condition

One of the paramount concerns was to maintain the sample’s pristine condition. To achieve this, the teams, equipped with protective gloves and masks, first ensured that the capsule had cooled down sufficiently post-reentry. They also verified that the capsule’s battery remained intact, preventing any potential toxic fumes from leaking.

Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx, shared his profound reflections on the mission and the sample’s return. Having dedicated nearly two decades to this mission, witnessing the capsule’s return was an emotional moment for him. He likened seeing the returned capsule to reuniting with an old friend and expressed the overwhelming sense of accomplishment and joy at the mission’s success.

The final step in this phase was the transportation of the sample. The capsule was carefully prepared and loaded onto a C-17 aircraft, destined for NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Here, in the state-of-the-art facilities, scientists eagerly await the opportunity to unveil and study the asteroid sample. Hoping it holds secrets of our solar system’s past and the universe at large.

The Future of the Sample

The successful return of the OSIRIS-REx sample has opened a new chapter in space research, with the sample holding the promise of revealing untold secrets about our universe.

The initial steps involve a thorough analysis of the sample. Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center are gearing up for a detailed examination, with plans already in place to conduct a preliminary assessment. This initial analysis aims to identify the presence of minerals and chemical elements within the sample. The broader scientific community and the public eagerly await the findings, and NASA has scheduled a broadcast on October 11 to share the initial insights and details about the sample with the world.

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OSIRIS REx Asteroid Sample Return lid opening at Building 31 Astromaterials Curation Facility. Photo Date: September 26, 2023. Location: Bldg. 31 – OSIRIS REx Thin Section Lab. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

Global collaboration

In the long run, the sample will undergo a more exhaustive analysis. Given its significance, portions of the sample will be distributed to laboratories worldwide, including mission partners at the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. This global collaboration ensures a comprehensive study, leveraging the expertise of scientists from various disciplines and backgrounds. Furthermore, approximately 70% of the sample will be preserved in a pristine state, stored securely for future generations. As technology advances, this stored sample will provide newer generations of scientists the opportunity to glean even more information than what is currently possible.

The study of this sample transcends mere scientific curiosity. It holds the key to understanding the very fabric of our solar system. Carbonaceous asteroids like Bennu are believed to have played a pivotal role in the early stages of our solar system, possibly delivering essential elements like water to Earth. By analyzing the sample, scientists hope to uncover clues about the solar system’s formation, its evolution, and the processes that have shaped it over billions of years. In essence, this tiny fragment from Bennu could help us piece together the grand story of our cosmic home.

Broader Implications

The OSIRIS-REx mission, while primarily a scientific endeavor, also underscores the broader implications of space exploration. Especially when it comes to the safety and future of our planet.

Asteroid Bennu, from which the sample was collected, is more than just a celestial body of interest; it represents a potential threat. Current data suggests that Bennu has a chance, albeit small, of colliding with Earth in the distant future. Such an event, depending on the size and speed of the asteroid, could have catastrophic consequences for our planet. Affecting ecosystems, climate, and even the very existence of life as we know it.

This potential threat underscores the critical importance of studying near-Earth asteroids. By understanding their composition, trajectory, and other physical properties, scientists can better predict their paths and assess the risks they pose. Moreover, knowledge about these asteroids is crucial for developing potential deflection methods. If an asteroid were found to be on a collision course with Earth, having the means to alter its trajectory could be the difference between a close call and a global catastrophe.

In essence, missions like OSIRIS-REx are not just about expanding our knowledge of the universe but also about safeguarding our future. By proactively studying and understanding these celestial neighbors, we equip ourselves with the tools and knowledge to protect our planet from potential extraterrestrial threats.


The OSIRIS-REx mission stands as a beacon of human achievement in the realm of space exploration. Its success is not just a testament to the prowess of modern technology and the dedication of countless scientists and engineers. But also a reminder of our innate curiosity and drive to understand the universe that surrounds us. This mission has significantly advanced space research, bridging the gap between theory and tangible evidence.

As we reflect on the journey of the spacecraft, from its launch to the triumphant return of the sample, we are reminded of the vastness of space and our place within it. The sample from asteroid Bennu holds within it stories of the past.

As scientists embark on the meticulous task of analyzing this sample, there is palpable anticipation about the revelations it might bring. Insights into the early history of our solar system, the origins of life on Earth. And the cosmic events that shaped our world await discovery.

In essence, the OSIRIS-REx mission is more than just a scientific endeavor; it’s a journey into our past, a quest for understanding, and a beacon of hope for the future of space exploration. As we look forward to the insights this mission will provide, we are reminded of the boundless possibilities that lie ahead in our quest to understand the cosmos.