The teams at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are having problems opening a canister, which holds the asteroid samples collected during its OSIRIS-REx mission, NASA said in a blog post on Friday. Until now, the team has cleared and collected 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of rocks and dust from the sampler hardware on asteroid Bennu. This has pushed the team to seek new strategies to access the samples while ensuring their safety and integrity. NASA said that the samples surpassed the mission's aim of collecting 60 grams of asteroid debris.
The OSIRIS-REx mission team, throughout the week, had a challenging time opening the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head, which contained the majority of the rocks and dust collected by the spacecraft in 2020.
Here's what NASA said
"After numerous efforts, the team realized that two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head cannot be removed using the existing tools authorized for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team has been working to create and implement new strategies to extract the material inside the head while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine," according to NASA.
The team will further spend the next few weeks developing and pushing a new method for removing the remaining asteroid sample from the TAGSAM sampler head. Also processing the material obtained this week.
Additionally, NASA mentioned, "All curation work on the sample and the TAGSAM head is been done in a specialized glovebox with a nitrogen flow to prevent it from being exposed to the Earth's atmosphere, keeping the sample's pristine state for eventual scientific study. The equipment for any proposed solution to extract the remaining material from the cranium must fit inside the glovebox and not risk the scientific integrity of the collection."
OSIRIS-REx is not the first mission to rendezvous with an asteroid and return samples for research. In 2010 and 2020, Japan succeeded in the feat twice, bringing back the space pebbles for research.
Notably, NASA decided on Bennu as it is believed to be rich in organic compounds. Scientists believe similar asteroids could have delivered organic building blocks to Earth along with water through collisions billions of years ago.
NASA added that although there is no possibility of it hitting the Earth through the mid-2100s, there is a high possibility of 1 in 1,750 chance of it happening between then and the year 2300.