NASA asteroid probe has too much of a good thing

AFP
NASA's robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex was on Tuesday set to begin a delicate operation to store the precious particles it scooped up from the asteroid Bennu.
AFP

NASA’s robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex was yesterday set to begin a delicate operation to store the precious particles it scooped up from the asteroid Bennu, but which were leaking into space when a flap was wedged open.

The probe is on a mission to collect fragments that scientists hope will help unravel the origins of our solar system, but that hit a snag after it picked up too big a sample.

Fragments from the asteroid’s surface are in a collector at the end of the probe’s 3-meter arm, slowly escaping into space because some rocks have prevented the compartment closing completely.

That arm is what came into contact with Bennu for a few seconds last Tuesday in the culmination of a mission launched from Earth some four years ago.

The probe is thought to have collected some 400 grams of fragments.

That is far more than the minimum of 60 grams needed, NASA said previously.

Scientists need to stow the sample in a capsule that is at the probe’s center.

And the operation was moved up to Tuesday from the planned November 2 date due to the leak.

“The abundance of material we collected from Bennu made it possible to expedite our decision to stow,” said Dante Lauretta, project chief.

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