SAN FRANCISCO -- Lockheed engineers erupted in applause as Osiris-REx became the first U.S. spacecraft to bring samples from an asteroid back to earth.
The drama unfolded early Sunday morning as the probe, superheated to incandescence by entry speeds in excess of 27,000 miles per hour, streaked over the skies of San Francisco, headed for the Utah desert.
Reaching maximum G-force deceleration with a maximum temperature 5,000° F, the probe slowed dramatically in mere minutes to a leisurely 11 mph after the drogue parachutes successfully deployed, setting the probe down with a gentle bump thanks to recent rains which softened the desert ground.
After carefully approaching the blackened probe, teams wrapped it up and attached a cable suspended from a helicopter which airlifted it to the nearby Utah Test and Training Range in Dugway, Utah, where it will be housed overnight in a portable clean room before its flight on Monday to the Johnson Space Center.
At that point, its lid will be removed and an eager examination of the contents -- estimated to be about a half pound of material extracted from the surface of Bennu, a near-earth asteroid -- will begin. Twenty-five percent of those contents will be distributed to researchers around the world but the bulk of the sample will be held for examination in future decades.
As for Osiris-REx spacecraft: It's off again to a rendezvous with yet another asteroid in 2029.
for more features.