If you missed it, NASA has managed to pull off a complex maneuver – it gathered dust from the asteroid Bennu which was rock speeding through space around 200 million miles away from Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft finished this job excellently, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the lid jammed open, causing some of the sample to leak into space.
The principle investigator of this mission, Dante Lauretta, said: "The big concern now is that particles are escaping because we're almost a victim of our own success. Large particles left the flap open. Particles are diffusing out into space. They aren't moving fast, but nonetheless, it's valuable scientific material."
The spacecraft retrieved a minute piece of Bennu on Tuesday in just about 16 seconds. Now after the leak, NASA has changed some of its plans. Apparently, the agency intends to store a collection device instead of a capsule returned as soon as possible which means they’re skipping one of the steps. NASA is aware that it collected more than enough, but it’s still unsure of the exact size and will only be able to find out after it reaches Earth in 2023.
“I was pretty concerned when I saw these images coming in, and I think the most prudent course of action is to very safely stow what we have and minimize any future mass loss.” – said Lauretta.
This was the first time NASA was able to collect any material from an asteroid.
Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science said: "Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs. And although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment."