Major asteroid sample brought to Earth in NASA first
A seven-year space voyage came to its climactic end Sunday when a NASA capsule landed in the desert in the US state of Utah, carrying to Earth the largest asteroid samples ever collected.
Scientists have high hopes for the sample, saying it will provide a better understanding of the formation of our solar system and how Earth became habitable.
When they learned that the capsule's main parachute had deployed, "I literally broke into tears," the Osiris-Rex mission's principal investigator Dante Lauretta told a press conference.
"That was the moment I knew we made it home... For me the real science is just beginning."
The 3.86-billion-mile (6.21-billion-kilometer) journey marked the United States' first sample return mission of its kind, the US space agency said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
NASA chief Bill Nelson hailed the mission and said the asteroid dust "will give scientists an extraordinary glimpse into the beginnings of our solar system."
The Osiris-Rex probe's final, fiery descent through Earth's atmosphere was perilous, but NASA managed to engineer a soft landing at 8:52 am local time (1452 GMT), in the military's Utah Test and Training Range.
Four years after its 2016 launch, the probe had landed on the asteroid Bennu and collected what NASA estimated is roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.
The Osiris-Rex mission's capsule is seen shortly after touching down in the desert on September 24, 2023 at the Utah Test and Training Range.