Sept. 24 (UPI) -- NASA has recovered a 250-gram dust sample from the Bennu asteroid on Sunday, marking the first sample return of its kind in America, the agency says.
The sample was collected by spacecraft OSIRIS-REx. A capsule sent back to Earth by the spacecraft landed in the Utah desert at 10:52 a.m. EDT. NASA's recovery team delivered the capsule to the nearby Department of Defense Utah Test and Training Range about an hour and a half later, NASA said in a press release.
"Today marks an extraordinary milestone not just for the OSIRIS-REx team but for science as a whole," Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a statement. "Successfully delivering samples from Bennu to Earth is a triumph of collaborative ingenuity and a testament to what we can accomplish when we unite with a common purpose. But let's not forget - while this may feel like the end of an incredible chapter, it's truly just the beginning of another. We now have the unprecedented opportunity to analyze these samples and delve deeper into the secrets of our solar system."
The sample is being kept under a "nitrogen purge," connected to a continuous flow of nitrogen to keep it pure of "earthly contaminants."
Four helicopters were dispatched to the landing site. The capsule reached temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry, so protective masks and gloves were required to handle it. It traveled at speeds up to 27,650 mph.
Flight operations were managed by Lockheed Martin Space, CNN reported.
"Congratulations to the OSIRIS-REx team on a picture-perfect mission - the first American asteroid sample return in history - which will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation," Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, said in a statement. "Not to mention, Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, and what we learn from the sample will help us better understand the types of asteroids that could come our way."
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Apophis Explorer, first landed on Bennu in 2020.
Upon landing on the asteroid, researchers were surprised at the loose consistency of the asteroid. It departed the asteroid in 2021.
The spacecraft launched in 2016. It has traveled about 3.86 billion miles, according to NASA.
OSIRIS-REx will next travel to the asteroid Apophis as part of the extended OSIRIS-APEX mission.