Celebrations erupted in the NASA control room as the capsule containing samples from the asteroid Bennu touched down in the Utah desert Sunday after a 4 billion mile journey that lasted seven years.
The capsule containing pieces from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu separated from the spacecraft known as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer, or the OSIRIS-REx, and entered Earth's atmosphere. The mission was the first U.S. attempt to retrieve and analyze samples from an asteroid.
OSIRIS-REx's van-sized craft visited Bennu, scraped and collected material from the asteroid’s surface, and sealed it into a 3-foot-wide container, equipped with a heat shield, called the Sample Return Capsule for delivery to Earth.
The capsule parachuted into the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah's West Desert, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, at approximately 11 a.m. EDT.
Scientists recovered the sample from the landing, and the sample will be sent to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Will Bennu hit Earth? NASA projection, size, what to know
What is OSIRIS-REx?
OSIRUS-REx is an unmanned, solar-powered spacecraft about the size of a household toolshed. Five science instruments mapped Bennu's chemistry and mineralogy, to determine the effect of sunlight on the asteroid's orbit.
The cost of the mission, excluding launch, is $800 million.
Bennu asteroid sample: OSIRIS-REx mission timeline
A timeline of significant events:
Sept. 8, 2016: Launch. OSIRIS-REx was carried into space atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Sept. 22, 2017: Flyby around the Earth.
Dec. 3, 2018: OSIRIS-REx arrives at asteroid Bennu.
Dec. 31, 2019: OSIRIS-REx begins orbiting Bennu.
Oct. 20, 2020: Sample successfully collected from Bennu.
April 7, 2021: Final flyover of Bennu.
May 10, 2021: OSIRIS-REx begins journey back to Earth.
Sept. 24, 2023: Sample Return Capsule landed on Earth.
2029: OSIRIS-REx begins extended mission to asteroid Apophis.
What is Bennu?
First discovered in 1999, Bennu is believed to be part of a larger asteroid that collided with another space rock. It’s about one-third of a mile wide and is roughly the height of the Empire State Building, according to NASA.
Its black surface is packed with boulders, and it orbits the sun every 14 months.
Bennu is rich in carbon and is believed to be a leftover fragment from the birth of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago, a time capsule of sorts that may help understand and trace the origin of life.
The asteroid was named after an Egyptian deity in 2013 by a nine-year-old boy from North Carolina. Bennu is the ancient Egyptian deity linked with the Sun, creation and rebirth.
Why did OSIRIS-REx go to Bennu?
Bennu is being studied to better understand other asteroids and their movements through space. Information gathered by OSIRIS-REx may help in development of future technologies to deflect asteroids that threaten to collide with Earth.
Contributing: George Petras, Ramon Padilla, Janet Loehrke, USA TODAY, Rick Neale and Jamie Groh, Florida Today
SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; NASA; The Associated Press; asteroidmission.org, University of Arizona; space.com; planetary.org; spaceflight101.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Video: Asteroid Bennu sample from OSIRIS-REx vehicle lands in Utah