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.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

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

See more

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.