(CNN) — NASA announced Thursday that, after a months-long process, a sample of valuable material from an asteroid was finally released.
The space agency had already collected about 70 grams of rocks and dust from its OSIRIS-REx mission, which traveled nearly 6 billion kilometers to collect this unprecedented sample from a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu.
But NASA revealed in October that some of the material remained inaccessible in a capsule hidden inside a device called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, a robotic arm with a storage container at one end that collected the sample. Bennu.
According to NASA, the sampler head is held closed by 35 latches, but two of them proved too difficult to open.
Freeing the system is no easy task. The space agency must use pre-approved materials and equipment around the capsule to reduce the risk of damaging or contaminating the samples.
“These new instruments also had to work in the tight space of the glove compartment, which limited their height, weight and possible bow speed,” explains Dr. Nicole Lunning, head of OSIRIS-REx conservation at the space station. Statement. Johnson of NASA in Houston. “The healing team showed impressive flexibility and did an incredible job of removing these stubborn fasteners from the TAGSAM head so we could continue disassembly. We are delighted with the success.”
To fix the problem, NASA said two instruments were made from surgical steel, “the hardest metal approved for use in ancient treatment glove boxes.”
Before dealing with the stuck fasteners, a team at Johnson Space Center tested the tools in a “test lab”, gradually increasing the applied torque to ensure that the new tools could successfully remove the inflexible fasteners.
What has been revealed so far from asteroid samples
On Thursday afternoon, NASA said that the substance trapped in the sample has not yet been revealed. According to the space agency, “some additional separation stages remain.” After completing those steps, the hidden cache can be photographed, extracted and weighed, NASA said.
Analysis of Bennu material collected last fall by NASA researchers had already revealed that the asteroid’s samples contained abundant water in the form of hydrated clay minerals as well as carbon.
Scientists believe the signs of water on asteroids strengthen the current theory of how it reached Earth billions of years ago.
“The reason Earth is a habitable world is that we have oceans and lakes, rivers and rain, because these clay minerals landed on Earth 4 billion to 4.5 billion years ago, making our world habitable, ” he said at OSIRIS in October. -Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator of REX. “So we’re looking at how water incorporated into the solid.” Loretta is Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona.
Some previously collected Bennu samples have been hermetically sealed in storage containers for future study, according to a NASA press release Thursday.