Not all samples will be analyzed immediately, like those brought back from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, which NASA is still opening up 50 years later.
The sample won't be returning to Earth until 2023, but the team will be able to test whether or not it's a good sample first.
Hurtling through space more than 200 million miles from Earth, the tricky "touch and go" maneuver involved the spacecraft making brief contact with the asteroid to grab at least 60 grams worth of material.
NASA is celebrating tonight after its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touched the Bennu asteroid in a bid to collect rock and dust samples from its surface.
By the time flight controllers near Denver hear back from Osiris-Rex, the action already will have happened 18 1/2 minutes earlier, the time it takes radio signals to travel each way between Bennu and Earth.
"Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system", said Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, to Al Jazeera. It is also expected to take about 10 days to know how much material was retrieved. As part of the preparations, NASA is building a separate lab for the Hayabusa2 samples next to the OSIRIS-REx rooms so they can share commonly needed infrastructure, such as air handling systems and nitrogen storage environments.
This "super-resolution" view of asteroid Bennu was created using eight images obtained by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on October 29, 2018, from a distance of about 205 miles (330 km).
Following a series of maneuvers that thrust the spacecraft out of orbit around Bennu, it extended its robotic arm while descending about half a mile (805 meters) toward the asteroid's surface.
The mission stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, and it launched in 2016. After almost two years orbiting Benno, the spacecraft found that this location contained the largest speck of particles small enough to swallow them up.
After determining that the coast was clear, Osiris-Rex closed in the last few yards for sampling.
More than 4.5 billion years old, Bennu was chosen as a target because scientists believe it was a tiny piece of much larger space rock that was shattered by a collision between two asteroids early in solar history. system.
Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator.
Osiris-Rex can make up to three touch-and-go maneuvers in case one comes up short. The more scientists know about the paths and properties of potentially risky space rocks like this one, the better.
The first scientists to get a look at the Bennu sample will be a multi-institutional, multi-generational science team from the OSIRIS-REx mission that will study its chemical and mineralogic makeup, among other aspects, to complete the mission's official scientific goals.
"That will be another big day for us. This is definitely the main event of the mission at the moment", said Lucy Lim, a NASA scientist. Bennu has been (mostly) undisturbed for billions of years.