After months of problems, NASA finally opens a capsule with priceless samples from asteroid Bennu

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
NASA has managed to cope with the last two mounts. Source: NASA

After almost three months of work, NASA engineers were able to create the necessary tools to open the capsule containing the bulk of the priceless samples collected from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. Back in October, after the capsule returned to Earth, scientists discovered that they could not remove 2 of the 35 capsule fasteners.

The space agency reported the success on its website. Earlier, scientists were still able to access some of the samples (about 70 grams) that were contained in the outer part of the capsule but the most interesting thing was under the lid.

The problems with the capsule were discovered in October when the OSIRIS-REx mission delivered the sample container to Earth. It seemed that everything went extremely well, especially considering that these were the first such samples received. However, the jubilation was too early.

To protect the samples from the Earth's atmosphere, bacteria, and so on, the capsule was placed in a special sealed box, where they intended to open it. However, it turned out that 2 of the 35 fasteners could not be opened using the tools that were in the box. The complication was that it was impossible to simply open the box and add a new tool as there was a risk of contaminating the samples.

Thus, NASA engineers had to develop new instruments, taking into account the fact that they would be used in the limited space of the sealed box, so they have certain limitations in terms of height, weight, and even potential arc of motion.

"The lead team showed impressive resilience and did an incredible job of getting those stubborn fasteners off the TAGSAM head so we could continue disassembly. We are very pleased with this success," said Dr. Nicole Lunning, OSIRIS-REx Project Curator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA said that the two instruments were made of surgical steel. This is the hardest of the materials approved for use in boxes of this type, where researchers work with gloves attached.

After the tools were developed, they were tested in a "test lab" to make sure that the new tools could successfully perform the required task. Only then were they installed in a sealed box and used to defeat stubborn fasteners.

NASA is currently celebrating this small victory, saying that further steps to collect the sample from the capsule will involve "several additional disassembly steps." After these steps are completed, the samples will be photographed, extracted and weighed.

The analysis of the material from Bennu, which NASA researchers did manage to get out of the capsule last fall, has already shown that the asteroid samples contain a large amount of water in the form of hydrated clay minerals, as well as carbon.

This confirms the current theory of how water could have come to Earth billions of years ago.

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