TechNASA triumphs over stubborn connectors: OSIRIS-REX mission sample soon to be unveiled

NASA triumphs over stubborn connectors: OSIRIS-REX mission sample soon to be unveiled

Capsule with asteroid sample breached. Technicians found a way.
Capsule with asteroid sample breached. Technicians found a way.
Images source: © NASA | Robert Markowitz
5:13 AM EST, January 13, 2024

The complications involving the OSIRIS-REX mission began inside the lab. The capsule landed successfully at a military base in Texas but required disassembly under sterile conditions. It quickly became apparent that things would not proceed as planned, and there was even potential for complete failure.

Challenges faced when opening the OSIRIS-REX mission capsule

The sample from the Bennu asteroid was brought to Earth in October, but it has not yet been opened. The sample surprised experts by exceeding expected resistance to standard opening procedures. Dust remained on the capsule casing, and accessing the contents became a dubious task.

Two of the 35 connectors protecting the main sample canister could not be removed. The lab's tools were inadequate for the job, and alternative methods were unprepared. The idea of relocating and opening the capsule outside the designated sterile sleeve was dismissed as it could potentially contaminate the invaluable scientific material.

Innovative tools created to open the capsule

Consequently, the technicians tasked with opening the cosmic consignment had to invent new tools, introduce them in the lab, and try to remove the stubborn connectors.

The solution was two new multipart tools made from non-magnetic stainless steel. Known for its hardness, this type of steel is used for surgical instruments and can be utilized in glove compartments. Following extensive testing, these tools were placed in the lab and were successful in dislodging the stubborn connectors.

While NASA is celebrating this success, the work continues. Only after the sample canister is opened can technicians evaluate its condition and determine the quantity of Bennu's rocks and dust it contains. Prior to that, the capsule must be completely disassembled. Despite the demanding tasks ahead, NASA doesn't anticipate significant issues. If all goes as planned, the global scientific community should gain access to the OSIRIS-REX mission samples by Spring this year.

The technicians of the OSIRIS REx mission are trying to remove two blocked connectors that are preventing the disassembly of the capsule with a sample from the asteroid Bennu.
The technicians of the OSIRIS REx mission are trying to remove two blocked connectors that are preventing the disassembly of the capsule with a sample from the asteroid Bennu.© NASA | Robert Markowitz
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