After a four-year journey, NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft successfully completed a touch-and-go landing Tuesday on the surface of an asteroid 200 million miles away from Earth.
Launched in September 2016, Osiris-Rex spent about two years orbiting its target asteroid, Bennu, taking extensive photos of the surface before its final objective of collecting a tiny sample (60 grams) of dirt and rocks from the surface. Because it takes 18 minutes for signal to travel between Earth and the spacecraft, the vehicle completed the mission largely on its own, briefly landing and "booping" the surface of Bennu with a specialized arm meant to collect a soil sample.
(I'm told this is a verified video of the landing)
One of the reasons Bennu was chosen was its designation as a "potentially hazardous object," meaning it has a 1-in-2,700 chance of hitting Earth between 2175 and 2199 as shown on this animation of its orbit (the blue dot is Earth):
If Bennu is part of the eschatological plan, this is the 500-yard-diameter chunk of space rock that awaits our descendants (assuming any of us survive 2020).
The mission had significant risks due to a much rockier-than-anticipated terrain, and the crater NASA chose as a landing site had an affectionally-named outcropping they named "Mount Doom."
(A view of the landing site, probably)
NASA celebrated the Tuesday touchdown in matching shirts and face masks, totally not looking like nerds.
NASA confirmed Wednesday that the craft survived the maneuver and successfully collected a rock sample. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a few more years before we can physically hold the sample. The craft is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2023.
P.S. Now check out our latest video about how Jeff Bezos wants to live forever and actually can 👇