LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – Tuesday was a historic day for NASA and a number of Colorado scientists at Lockheed Martin, as the OSIRIS-REx touched an asteroid. The team from Lockheed has helped design, build and operate the spacecraft from their campus in Littleton. It launched in 2016.
Inside their Mission Support, area teams of scientists watched anxiously as that spacecraft made the first ever attempt at touching an asteroid.
Beth Buck is the deep space programs operations manager for Lockheed Martin.
“Doing this fine optical navigation in orbit around this asteroid, with little gravity, as well as coming in and taking our first sample for the us, ever, those are huge,” she said.
Years of work all culminated in one historic moment, tagging a small and boulder-filled area of the asteroid.
“We were coming in dead-on the entire time, every step was exactly as if you had planned it to be perfect,” she said.
That touch down was brief, only a matter of seconds, but Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science division says it was enough time to collect dust from the surface and potentially give scientists a look back to more than four and a half billion years ago.
“The goal is to really understand the asteroid Bennu — asteroids are building blocks of the solar system, planet formation and potential seeding life on earth and maybe other places,” Glaze said.
While they wait for confirmation that the sample was a success, they are celebrating the day’s achievements — the first of their kind.
“There have been so many nights we have given up, to be in here and make this happen, and it’s worth it right now,” Buck said about the success of the mission.
The team will now have to wait several days to know if they got enough of a sample to send back. If not they can make a second and third attempt.
If it is enough, they will send it back in a return capsule which is expected to return to earth in September of 2023.