On Tuesday, October 20th, NASA made history when the OSIRIS-REx mission successfully completed a “touch-and-go” sample collection maneuver with asteroid 101955 Bennu over 200 million miles away from Earth. And now, we have the timelapse to prove it.
NASA shared a total of 82 images from spacecraft’s SamCam imager covering the approach, the touchdown at sample sight Nightingale, and the “back-away burn.” The slideshow was captured over the course of approximately five minutes, and covers everything from about 82 feet (25 meters) above the asteroid, through the back-away burn, and up until the craft achieved an altitude of approximately 43 feet (13 meters), kicking up a lot of material along the way.
The GIF and video below explain the maneuver in more detail, and show the full 82-image sequence:
In total, the craft spent just 6 seconds touching the asteroid itself, but that was enough to collect samples of the asteroid’s regolith for analysis on Earth.
“The spacecraft’s sampling arm – called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – is visible in the lower part of the frame. The round head at the end of TAGSAM is the only part of OSIRIS-REx that contacted the surface during the sample collection event,” explains NASA. “In the middle of the image sequence, the sampling head positions itself to contact the asteroid’s surface head-on. Shortly after, the sampling head impacts site Nightingale and penetrates Bennu’s regolith.”
You can read about it. You can see it happen. But it’s still hard to fathom that something built by humans just touched a piece of space rock floating 200 million miles away from Earth… and took pictures. Check out the images and video above to see it all for yourself, and then head over to the NASA website if you want to learn more.
Image/Video Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona