Witness NASA’s Historic Asteroid Sample Return Mission Live with the Virtual Telescope Project

Witness NASA’s Historic Asteroid Sample Return Mission Live with the Virtual Telescope Project

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is set to make history as it approaches Earth to return a sample collected from the potentially hazardous asteroid Bennu. This monumental event marks the first time that NASA has gathered material from an asteroid and is bringing it back to our planet. Space enthusiasts around the world are eager to witness this historic sample return mission, and thanks to Italian astrophysicist and astronomer Gianluca Masi and his Virtual Telescope Project, you may have the chance to watch it live and for free online.

A Pioneering Sample Return Mission

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to pass Earth this weekend, specifically on Sunday, September 24th. It carries with it a precious Sample Return Capsule filled with samples from the asteroid Bennu. This mission represents a significant achievement in space exploration, as it is the first instance where NASA has successfully collected material from an asteroid and is on its way to bring it home.

Live Streaming the Historic Moment

Gianluca Masi, the driving force behind the Virtual Telescope Project, is thrilled to announce that they will attempt to share real-time images of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approximately 12 hours before it releases its Sample Return Capsule containing Bennu samples. The live stream is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) on Saturday, September 23rd. You can catch this exciting event live here on Space.com or by visiting the Virtual Telescope Project’s website. Please keep in mind that weather conditions or unforeseen factors may impact the ability to observe the OSIRIS-REx probe from the ground.

OSIRIS-REx’s Incredible Journey

The journey of OSIRIS-REx began in September 2016 when it launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Over the course of two years, the spacecraft traveled to its destination, the 1,720-foot (524-meter) wide asteroid known as 101955 Bennu. Upon arrival in August 2018, OSIRIS-REx spent another two years meticulously studying Bennu’s surface.

Once the survey phase was completed, the spacecraft ventured closer to the asteroid’s surface to recover material, a task that proved to be challenging and almost resulted in the spacecraft’s being engulfed by Bennu. In 2021, with the Bennu samples safely stored in a sample return capsule, OSIRIS-REx initiated its propulsion system and embarked on a 1.2 billion-mile (1.9 billion-kilometer) journey back to Earth.

Unveiling the Secrets of Our Solar System’s Birth

Asteroids like Bennu were born approximately 4.5 billion years ago, a time when the planets in our solar system were still in their infancy, forming from the remnants of planet formation. Studying material from asteroids such as Bennu provides invaluable insights into the composition and conditions surrounding the early solar system. Following the sample’s return, a two-year period from late 2023 to 2025 will be dedicated to cataloging and analyzing the precious Bennu sample. NASA plans to preserve at least 75% of the sample at its Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston for future research.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters, remarked, “OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovative way in which exploration unfolds in real-time. We have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”

A Journey Beyond Bennu

While the research continues with the Bennu sample, OSIRIS-REx is not resting. It will undergo a name change, becoming OSIRIS-APEX, and embark on a new mission. This time, it will journey to the near-Earth asteroid Apophis, where it will settle into orbit around the 1,200-foot (370-meter) wide space rock by 2029.

As we anticipate the thrilling moments of OSIRIS-REx’s historic sample return mission, space enthusiasts worldwide can express their gratitude to the Virtual Telescope Project and Gianluca Masi for providing the opportunity to witness this remarkable event live online. This mission not only advances our understanding of our solar system’s origins but also inspires future generations of explorers and scientists to reach for the stars.

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