Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes history by successfully touching down on asteroid

An illustration of OSIRIS-REx approaching Bennu.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made history on Tuesday when it briefly touched down on the asteroid Bennu, more than 200 million miles away from Earth.

This was the first mission of its kind for NASA, and was more than a decade in the making. After years of planning, OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016, and it has spent the last two years orbiting Bennu, an asteroid that is as tall as the Empire State Building, CNN reports. The spacecraft has been sending back data and images, but its main reason for going to the asteroid was so it could quickly touch down and use its robotic arm to collect a sample.

On Tuesday evening, NASA announced that preliminary data showed the event went well, with the touchdown lasting less than a minute, but scientists won't know for sure if a sample was collected until all of the data is analyzed. OSIRIS-REx is set to start the trip back to Earth in 2021, arriving in 2023.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement this was "an incredible feat, and today we've advanced both science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient storytellers of the solar system. A piece of primordial rock that has witnesses our solar system's entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can't wait to see what comes next." Catherine Garcia