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NASA spacecraft sends soil samples from deep space asteroid into Utah desert

A NASA spacecraft captured soil samples from an asteroid that may come close to hitting Earth in the next 200 years and parachuted the capsule into a Utah desert Sunday morning.

The flyover marked a successful mission for NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft, which dropped the samples from the asteroid Bennu while flying about 63,000 miles from Earth’s surface.

The tire-sized space capsule rocketed through Earth’s atmosphere at 27,000 mph from deep space, carrying about 9 ounces of rocks, dust, and dirt.

About four hours after releasing the capsule — which collected the largest soil sample ever gathered from the surface of an asteroid — the capsule touched down within a designated landing zone west of Salt Lake City on the US military’s vast Utah Test and Training Range.

The capsule flew through Earth’s atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. EST.

After capping off its seven-year-long mission, NASA’s Osirius-Rex spacecraft — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer — set off for another asteroid.

“We have touchdown!” Mission Recovery Operations announced, immediately repeating the news as the landing occurred three minutes early.

“It’s like ‘Wow!’” said NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who was in Utah training for her own space capsule mission. “This is just amazing. It can go from the movies, but this is reality.”

Scientists believe the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from Bennu, but they will not know for certain until the container is opened. During a mission three years ago, some rubble spilled and floated away after the spacecraft overfilled the capsule and caused the container’s lid to jam.

Osiris-Rex launched its first trip to Bennu in 2016 and reached the asteroid two years later. By the time it returned in 2020, the spacecraft had traveled 4 billion miles.

Bennu, which orbits the sun about 50 million miles from Earth, is roughly the size of the Empire State Building but shaped like a spinning top.

Scientists say what they learn from the asteroid’s rubble may be important in the years to come, as Bennu is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182 — possibly close enough to hit.

While Bennu is the most dangerous known asteroid in the solar system — and large enough to cause significant destruction on Earth — the odds of Bennu crashing into Earth are just 1 in 2,700, reported.

Scientists say what they learn from the asteroid’s rubble may be important in the years to come, as Bennu is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182 — possibly close enough to hit.

“I think that people of the future will be well-equipped to deal with Bennu, especially because of the enormous amount of information that we have collected [at Bennu],” Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, told earlier.

“I like to think of it as one of our gifts to the future generations.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the samples that returned to Earth on Sunday will provide “an extraordinary glimpse into the beginnings of our solar system.”

The samples will be flown Monday morning to a new lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which houses the hundreds of pounds of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts.

NASA plans to share what was brought back from Bennu in October.

Osiris-Rex has since moved on to the asteroid Apophis, which it will reach in 2029.

With Post wires.

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