A NASA spacecraft successfully descended on an asteroid to collect a sample back to Earth, the space center confirmed.
On Tuesday, Osiris-Rex made a four and a half hour flight from its orbit at Specify An asteroid 200 million miles from Earth to fly directly above its surface.
It had to dodge rocks the size of buildings and reach as small as a parking space with an 11-foot robotic arm to snatch a tiny amount of debris from the asteroid.
The task took five to ten seconds, but the team in Denver had to wait for the wireless delay to find out exactly what happened.
Finally, after 18 minutes, Osiris-Rex sent confirmation that the mission was a success, prompting NASA base chants.
“I can’t believe we actually did that,” said chief scientist Dante Loretta, of the University of Arizona.
“The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”
Osiris-Rex has been orbiting Bennu for nearly two years, but this mission is the first for the United States – only Japan has managed to collect asteroid samples before.
Scientists aim to produce between 60 grams and 2 kilograms of black, carbon-rich Bennu debris, but they will have to wait until 2023 when returning samples to Earth to find out how much has been collected.
Truck-sized spacecraft can make up to three attempts at touch and launch maneuver if insufficient samples are returned.
They will be parachuted into the Utah desert in a capsule.
“This will be another important day for us,” said Lucy Lim, a NASA scientist. “But this is definitely the main event of the mission at the moment.”
There is little chance that Benno will hit the ground in the next century.
If scientists can analyze the material that makes it up, they can better predict the paths and properties of dangerous space rocks like them and help ensure the planet remains safe.