NASA is in a bit of a bind with a dirt container from asteroid Bennu, which was delivered to Earth in September after an epic seven-year mission.
They know there’s a significant amount of asteroids out there — but they’re having trouble opening a Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Automation container, or TAGSAM. It’s just sealed very well.
The problem is that TAGSAM must be opened in a special glove box designed to reduce ground contamination. Scientists want to study the sample in as pure a state as possible; To this end, all extraction procedures must be done in a clean, sealed box under an active flow of nitrogen that scientists can access via supplied gloves.
TAGSAM is the head of the collection arm that arrived and sampled dirt from the surface of asteroid Bennu in 2020. The TAGSAM head was then sealed in a canister that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shot toward Earth on its way to Earth. Next surveillance target.
That can was opened, and a batch of asteroid clay was collected from outside TAGSAM. It’s good news.
But the TAGSAM head was locked with 35 fasteners – and two of these fasteners could not be removed with tools currently approved for use in the glove box. Sure, they could take the TAGSAM head out of the glove box, but that would expose the sample to significant levels of contamination.
The sample will be opened; But it will take some cunning maneuvers. Any instruments must fit inside a glove box, not affect sample integrity, and maintain clean room standards.
“the team,” NASA’s Erin Morton wrote in a blog post“We have been developing and implementing new methods to extract the material inside the head, while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine.”
There’s more good news, too. The team hoped to capture at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of Bennu dust using TAGSAM. By carefully screening material from the travel case and around the outside of TAGSAM, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team was able to collect 70.3 grams (2.48 ounces) of Bennu asteroid material.
Inside the container is even more dirt, up to 250 grams (8.8 ounces), which means the scientific opportunities will be great.
It will take a few weeks to figure out the solution. While the science team worked on it, TAGSAM was placed back in the transport container, sealed with an O-ring, and sealed with a nitrogen-filled Teflon bag, to keep it clean and uncontaminated.
While we wait to see what’s inside the box, there are 70.3 grams of asteroid to begin the scientific investigation. Osiris Rex It was launched on its mission in 2016. We can wait a few more weeks to see the sparkling black dirt it brought us.
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