OSIRIS-REx team trains to retrieve 'literally the oldest rocks in the solar system'

By Greg Hahne
Published: Monday, July 17, 2023 - 1:58pm
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2023 - 3:14pm

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft

It’s important for the crew of a multiyear mission carrying an asteroid sample to get every step of its retrieval right. 

Researchers are doing a series of rehearsals for when the asteroid capsule lands back on Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is composed of a team of experts from the University of Arizona, NASA and Lockheed Martin. 

The mission is set to provide materials from the asteroid Bennu without it being exposed to Earth’s elements. 

UA Professor Dante Lauretta says that is crucial to the goal of understanding the role asteroids played in making Earth habitable. 

“In particular, delivering the water that's in our oceans and the gasses that are in our atmosphere, as well as the origin of life; we're really interested in the organic chemistry in these asteroids which predate the formation of the Earth," Lauretta said. 

The team is scheduled to do two more major rehearsals of gathering the sample before the mission lands in late September.

"These are literally the oldest rocks in the solar system, and we're interested in the organic chemistry to try to understand: “Did the system make any progress in going from what you would clearly consider an abiotic or non-living system or something that you would consider to be alive?" Lauretta said. 

OSIRIS-REx Liftoff
Sandy Joseph and Tim Terry/NASA
OSIRIS-REx liftoff in 2016.