posted on 10\/20\/2020 22:16\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t (credit: Handout \/ NASA \/ Goddard \/ Arizona State) \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\tFour years after its launch, the American probe Osiris-Rex was able to briefly touch the asteroid Bennu, to try to collect a few tens of grams of samples, in a high-precision operation developed 330 million kilometers from Earth and whose success will be known within a few days. "Everything went perfectly," said mission chief Dante Lauretta, touched. "We wrote a page of history this afternoon." The probe will send images and data of the operation at dawn on Wednesday, in a first indication to determine if the spacecraft has reached the objective of taking the samples. Last year, Japan was able, with the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, to collect some dust from another asteroid, Ryugu, and is now returning home, scheduled to arrive in December. With Osiris-Rex, NASA hopes to collect a much larger sample, at least 60 grams, with which it will try to decipher the original components of the solar system. The truck-sized spacecraft has been oscillating around the asteroid since the end of 2018 to prepare for this highly complex operation, carried out autonomously by the robot based on instructions sent by NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers.\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t "We cannot control the ship in real time," explained Kenneth Getzandanner, the flight's dynamics manager for the mission. At that distance, the signals take about 18.5 minutes to travel. The first sign of confirmation of the operation arrived on Earth at 10:12 pm GMT on Tuesday, as expected. Then, the probe confirmed that it had taken the samples and left for a safe distance from the asteroid. The first images are expected to arrive on Wednesday morning. "It is not easy to navigate around a small body," explained Heather Enos, the project's principal deputy researcher, who spent 12 years on the mission preparing for this moment, which came down to less than 16 critical contact seconds. , during which an arm should extend and take samples of two centimeters or less in diameter. "We can't really land on Bennu's surface, so we'll just kiss her," said Beth Buck of Lockheed Martin.\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t - Rocks - The interest in analyzing the composition of asteroids in the solar system is based on the fact that they are made of the same materials that formed the planets. It is "almost a Rosette stone, something that is out there and tells the story of our entire Earth, of the solar system over the past billion years," compared NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen. The samples will return to Earth on September 24, 2023, with a planned landing in the American desert of Utah. With the material, laboratories will be able to perform much more powerful analyzes of their physical and chemical characteristics, said the director of NASA's planetary science division, Lori Glaze. Not all samples will be analyzed immediately. Like those brought in from the Moon by Apollo astronauts, which NASA is still studying 50 years later. The samples "will also allow our future planetary scientists to ask questions that we cannot even think about today, using analysis techniques that have not yet been invented," said Glaze.\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t All approach maneuvers were developed with high precision, which should increase the chances of the probe avoiding the rocks that splash the surface. Bennu is not the smooth asteroid, covered by a harmless "beach" of fine sand, as NASA expected. The asteroid was chosen because it is conveniently close and because it is ancient: scientists estimate that it formed in the first 10 million years of the solar system's history, 4.5 billion years ago. After Osiris-Rex hit the rock in late 2018, scientists were surprised to receive photos showing that it was covered with pebbles and stones, sometimes 30 meters high. Since then, they have mapped the asteroid with a resolution of centimeters and chose the least risky landing site: the so-called Nightingale Crater, 25 meters wide, with a target zone of only 8 meters in diameter ready to close.