TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The NASA team working in the Drake building in Tucson celebrated as OSIRIS-REx successfully swung by Earth on its way to the asteroid Bennu.
Mission leader Dante Lauretta said it was the first true science test since OSIRIS-REx launched nearly a year ago.
"Everything has gone exactly according to plan," he said.
That plan was to use the Earth's gravity to redirect the trajectory of OSIRIS-REx from in line with the planets to in line with Bennu.
The "slingshot" sent OSIRIS-REx under Antarctica where the team briefly lost contact. As soon as the nearest satellite picked it back up, OSIRIS-REx began capturing images of everything it was leaving behind, including Earth.
"Now the second phase starts where we power on the instruments and collect that science data," said Lauretta. "And we'll start to see that awesome information coming in tonight."
The mission is not only the first time NASA will return samples from an asteroid to Earth, but it's also the largest collection effort since the Apollo era.
"We're going to have these samples for generations to use," said Deputy Program Scientist Dr. Christina Richey. "There's going to be questions asked that, you know, we haven't thought of yet, that our kids or grandkids haven't thought of yet. And they'll have these samples to be able to answer those questions."
Lauretta laughed as he referred to the team as a bunch of space cowboys. Joking aside, he said
Bennu is unknown territory for mankind and the men and women working together on the mission are very proud of their work.
"This job is amazing and we're very fortunate to be able to lead a mission like this for the United States and for the world," he said.
The work continues as Lauretta and his crew track OSIRIS-REx on its way to Bennu. Samples collected from the asteroid are expected to be back to Earth by September 2023. Images captured by OSIRIS-REx during Friday's "fly-by" will be available to the public as early as Tuesday, Sept. 26.