TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is heading back to earth.
It’s the latest accomplishment for the University of Arizona-led mission to bring home pieces of an asteroid.
The spacecraft spent two years in space with asteroid Bennu— taking photos and pieces of the space rock.
The 1.4 billion-mile journey home will take the spacecraft around the sun twice, according to The University of Arizona.
Principle Investigator Dante Lauretta said the path home will be much easier than when the spacecraft was circling the asteroid.
“We’re kind of just cruising through space. There’s no wind resistance. There’s nothing that slows us down. We’re just going to keep flying for two and half years until we intersect the earth,” he said.
Lauretta said now the team is transitioning to the ground game.
“It’s all about getting ready to retrieve that capsule from the Utah desert [and] making sure the laboratory is ready for use at the NASA Johnson Center. And of course here at The University of Arizona we're building a world-class materials analytical facility,” he explained.
Researchers who’ve worked on the mission, including hundreds in Tucson are ready to get their hands on the space rocks.
The mission is a point of pride for the wildcats who’ve been a part of this mission for years.
“Undergrad and graduate students are gaining real-life experience on a space mission. This hasn’t just been some simple undergraduate project. This is getting in help us design these cameras, help us fly a spacecraft, of course, get involved in the scientific analysis,” said Lauretta.
University of Arizona researchers said they are expecting at least two ounces of the sample, and are hoping to take a trip back in time to learn more about the earth and the habitable solar system.
“It’s a chance to go back eons, to understand the very fundamental processes that lead the planet formation. And then, even more importantly to a habitable planet. We're particularly interested in how Earth got its oceans and we know from our remote sensing information that the rocks on Bennu have a lot of water locked up in them,” he said.
The NASA team expects the samples to land on Earth in September 2023.