OSIRIS-REx Is Jammed

NASA struggles to open container holding large sample from asteroid Bennu
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 24, 2023 8:17 AM CDT
OSIRIS-REx Is Jammed
Mari Montoya, left, and Curtis Calva, right, use tools to collect asteroid particles from the base of a canister on Sept. 27, 2023, at Johnson Space Center in Houston.   (NASA via AP)

OSIRIS-REx delivered the largest-ever asteroid sample to Earth, with a major catch. The container holding the sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu can't be opened. Teams at NASA's Johnson Space Center have been trying to open the round head at the end of OSIRIS-REx's articulated arm, called TAGSAM (Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), through a specialized glovebox, which allows nitrogen to flow to prevent contamination and exposure to our atmosphere, Gizmodo reports. While handling the spacecraft part used to collect the sample, team members realized that two of 35 fasteners on the end of the head "could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox," NASA wrote in a Friday blog post.

Scientists initially got a look at asteroid dust and debris as it covered the canister's avionics deck, revealed through the removal of an aluminum lid. "We've found a lot more sample than we're anticipating before even getting into the TAGSAM," Francis McCubbin, a curator at JSC, noted during a live event on Oct. 11. Scientists have since gained more material from the canister by extracting it "with tweezers or a scoop while holding down the TAGSAM head's mylar flap," per Gizmodo. In fact, they've nabbed 70.3 grams of material, more than the mission goal of 60 grams. But after a seven-year, $1 billion mission, NASA understandably wants all it can get.

"The team has been working to develop and implement new approaches to extract the material inside the head, while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine," the agency wrote, adding the tools used "must be able to fit inside the glovebox and not compromise the scientific integrity of the collection, and any procedures must be consistent with the clean room's standards." Scientists around the world are hoping for success. As Space.com reports, NASA plans to give 25% of the sample to more than 200 scientists at 25 facilities, 4% to the Canadian Space Agency, and 0.5% to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The rest will stay at JSC for further study. NASA has already found carbon and water molecules "which together could indicate the building blocks of life on Earth may be found in the rock." (More NASA stories.)

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