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A NASA spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, recently made contact with an asteroid called Bennu. Its goal? To collect dust and pebbles from Bennu’s surface and bring them back to Earth. Asteroids are space rocks left over from the formation of our solar system. Sierra Gonzales is an engineer with Lockheed Martin, a company that worked with NASA on the project. We spoke with her about the mission.
Q: What was OSIRIS-REx’s journey like?
A: It took more than two years to reach Bennu, which is 200 million miles away. The craft then orbited Bennu to map potential sites to collect a sample. We discovered lots of interesting surprises about Bennu, such as its rocky surface and particle ejections. It was throwing its own small rocks into space!
Q: What was the descent to Bennu like?
A: It was nerve-racking! We had to rely on messages from the spacecraft that were on a time delay. And we knew that the spacecraft had to coast by a two-story boulder, which is nicknamed Mount Doom—and then park next to it.
Q: What can be learned from studying asteroids?
A: So much! Asteroids can help us learn how our solar system formed. Also, Bennu contains carbon—and long ago the asteroid may have contained water. Those are key ingredients for life on Earth. Could asteroids have brought them to our planet? The material collected from Bennu may help us find out!