The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) practised recovering a sample return capsule from the site where actual asteroid Bennu samples are due to settle on September 24 this year.

NASA teams have already practised several aspects of the recovery effort over the course of the year, but this is the most realistic rehearsal yet, according to the space agency. It includes helicopter training for the team members who will fly the sample capsule from its landing spot by helicopter.

The project has been in space for seven years and is about to face one of its most difficult obstacles yet: delivering the asteroid sample while protecting it from heat, vibrations, and any contaminations from our planet.

How the sample will re-enter
Instead of landing on Earth, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will “drop” a sample capsule. To do this correctly, the spacecraft must enter our planet at a precise speed and in the correct direction.

If the capsule is dropped at an angle too steep, it will “skip” off the atmosphere like a rock over a river. The “rock” in this scenario, however, is the sample capsule, which will end up drifting in space. If it is angled too low, though, it will burn up in our planet’s atmosphere.

Why is the sample important
Asteroids can retain chemical traces from a time when the universe was younger. This implies that they could potentially  act as “time capsules” for the earliest history of our solar system. In fact, there is even a possibility that they contain samples of the ancient building blocks of life.

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