Special Delivery from Outer Space – NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

9
Special Delivery from Outer Space – NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Episode Description: 

On September 24, 2023, a capsule from space parachuted down into the Utah desert. Tucked inside it were 4.5-billion-year-old bits of rock and dust from a faraway asteroid named Bennu collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. These pristine space rocks, which contain carbon and other building blocks of life, can rewrite scientists’ understanding of our solar system. In this episode, sit in mission control and ride aboard helicopters with asteroid mission leaders like Dante Lauretta and Mike Moreau for a behind-the-scenes look at the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission’s epic conclusion.  

 

  

[Song: “Uncover the Truth Underscore” by Kuei ] 

 

[SFX: Shuffling equipment as Dante sorts field gear] 

 

Dante Lauretta: 

Dry bag, I got personal bag so far, there it is, dry bag, check. 

 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: It was a cold morning in the Utah desert, long before sunrise on September 24.  

 

Dante: 

Dust sampler’s last, right? So actually spare should be at the bottom here. Keep going. 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: Inside a military building buzzing with NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineers and scientists, Dante Lauretta ran through his checklist one last time, prepping his backpack with field gear.  

 

Scientist: 

Do you have the filters? 

 

Dante:  

Two filters, two containers, check. 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: He’d been up since one a.m. He cann’t sleep, thinking of his spacecraft, the one he’d worked on for nearly two decades, hurtling towards Earth high above his head.  

 

Dante: 

Whistle is here, check. 

 

Scientist: 

Gloves? 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: This day, the day of the return, had been set for years… the end of the nearly four-billion-mile journey for OSIRIS-REx.  

 

Dante: 

I’m just trying to do as much now as I can. 

 

Scientist: 

Yep, makes sense. 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: After a nerve-racking night, it had just successfully released its payload, a capsule full of pristine rock and dust collected from an asteroid in deep space. 

 

Dante: 

And now we’re just flying through space. It’s amazing to think of that capsule just cruising, all by itself. Especially because I saw it when it was first assembled, and tested… 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: The precious sample was on its way to Earth, but Dante cann’t relax yet. In just a few short hours, that capsule might either come gently parachuting down on this military test range… or come careening down for a hard landing on the desert floor, as he watched helplessly from the recovery helicopter. The culmination of Dante’s life’s work… it might all come down to one moment. 

 

[Theme song: Curiosity by SYSTEM Sounds] 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Curious Universe. Our universe is a wild and wonderful place. I’m your host Padi Boyd and in this podcast, NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is your tour guide. Dante Lauretta is a professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona. And he’s also the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s first asteroid sample return mission. You might remember him from our 2020 episode, Asteroid Hunting, recorded just before the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully collected its sample from the surface of asteroid Bennu. Three years later he was still at it, waiting in Utah to finally welcome that sample home. 

 

PRODUCER CHRISTIAN ELLIOTT: So, Dante was the reason we were all out in the middle of the Utah desert in September…dozens of NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists and engineers and communicators… All there to make sure everything went perfectly. 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: That’s Christian Elliott, Curious Universe producer. To get the inside scoop on the sample return, we sent him out to Utah… He’ll be taking it from here.  

 

CHRISTIAN: Dante was very busy on the day of the sample return, the grand  finale of OSIRIS-REx’s seven-year flight, but as the sample capsule was hurtling down towards Earth, he took a few minutes to sit down with me and talk about how he was feeling before heading out into the desert. 

 

Christian:
So you’re going to be one of the people on a helicopter going out there? 

 

Dante: 

Yeah, I really wanted to be one of the first people to greet the Bennu samples to the Earth. So I volunteered to be on the environmental sampling team. 

  

CHRISTIAN: It’s an understatement to say this was a big day for him. He’d led the mission every step of the way… 

 

[Song: “Unfolding Complexity Underscore” by Lau] 

 

Dante: 

It feels like I’ve been here from the beginning of time, but my journey on OSIRIS-REx goes back to February of 2004. So almost 20 years. 

 

CHRISTIAN: …from the rocket launch in 2016  

 

[OSIRIS-REx launch broadcast: “4, 3, 2, 1, and liftoff of OSIRIS-REx. Its seven-year mission… to boldly go to the asteroid Bennu… and back].  

 

CHRISTIAN: …to the rendezvous with Bennu in 2018, a two-year survey of the asteroid and successful sample collection in 2020  

 

[TAG attempt broadcast: “Go for TAG. All stations, this is O-REx systems, I copy all subsystems are go for TAG.”] 

 

CHRISTIAN: …to months of dress rehearsals and practices to today, the sample return… 

 

Dante: 

Yeah, it’s a really interesting, emotional state. It’s a little bittersweet because it’s been my life for so long. There’s definitely an element of anxiety coupled with the excitement, because there’s some critical operations that still need to happen. 

 

CHRISTIAN: The main thing that still needed to happen that Sunday morning was the parachute. That’s what makes the difference between a gentle landing and a crash. It had been in storage on the spacecraft for the last seven years, and Dante and his fellow scientists were nervous it mightn’t work after all that time. 

 

Dante: 

And for me, that’s the moment I’m looking forward to the most, getting confirmation the parachute is open, because then I know we’re home at that point, it’s gonna come down, and we’re gonna go out there and get it. We spend a lot of time talking and thinking through all the things that might go wrong. And that is just mentally exhausting. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Back in 2004, when Dante was starting to dream up OSIRIS-REx, a different NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission returning solar wind particles crashed into the desert at Dugway, the same Utah military test range where I was talking with Dante. Its parachute didn’t deploy… 

 

Dante: 

So we’ve been studying that, watching that video and planning on what we might do in the event that we have a similar kind of failure. The good news is we learned from that and we are not going to repeat that mistake. But still, there’s always things that can go wrong. Spaceflight is nerve-racking, and you just make sure you do everything you possibly can to make it succeed. And I know we’ve done that. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Dante mightn’t be able to relax until he saw the capsule’s parachute deploy, but he was still able to reflect a bit on how well the mission had gone so far… and what the future might hold. 

 

Dante: 

We’re really excited because we’ve done a very thorough job surveying the surface of asteroid Bennu. And I’ve seen rocks on that asteroid that don’t look like anything we’ve seen in our meteorite collections. So I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’re bringing back something new. I really want to see those samples and start to unravel the secrets of our solar system. 

 

Christian: 

Thanks for taking the time. 

 

Dante: 

You bet. 

 

CHRISTIAN: NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a lot of meteorites in its collection. But those space rocks aren’t anything like the ones inside the OSIRIS-REx capsule. When meteorites crash land on Earth, they get exposed to and contaminated by our atmosphere and biosphere, even if scientists get to them within minutes after they land. These rocks from Bennu are pristine… they’ve never been anywhere other than the vacuum of space, for the last four and half billion years. They’re so old, scientists hope they’ll help us understand how our solar system formed and even how life first began on Earth. This is NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s first attempt to collect an asteroid sample in outer space and bring it safely back to Earth. For Dante, that’s an effort worth dedicating your life to, no matter how it turns out.  

 

[SFX: Tape recorder clicks on, birds singing] 

 

Christian: 

So this is Christian Elliott, NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration audio producer out here in the middle of the desert in Utah, We had our hour and a half drive in, like we do every morning, saw some wildlife, coyote and some pronghorns just alongside the road, because you’re really driving through just about nothing on the way out, just some flowers and desert plants and the Great Salt Lake out to your right. And the mountains in the distance lit up by the sunrise. 

 

[SFX: Whir of helicopter starting up] 

 

Christian: 

So it’s just after five in the morning at Dugway Proving Grounds. I’m over at building 1010. It’s the Mission Operations Center. We just heard that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has released the capsule. So in just under four hours, it’ll be coming down into the Utah desert in the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range.  

 

[SFX: Tape recorder clicks off] 

 

[Song: “Work to be Done Underscore” by Gilmartin] 

 

CHRISTIAN: After Dante finished packing his gear, all eyes turned to the two leaders of the Recovery Team, Mike Moreau from NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Richard Witherspoon from Lockheed Martin, the NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration partner that built the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The room was full of scientists and engineers… and each one of them had spent years waiting for this moment. For a mission like this one, it takes a village. At a big moment like this, what do you say? Richard went first. 

 

Richard Witherspoon: 

All right, welcome to the final briefing. Zero days ‘til SRC return, technically sub 120 minutes until it’s gonna be on the ground… All right, here’s our current status: we released the SRC from the spacecraft…  

 

CHRISTIAN: Focused on the technical, he brought everybody up to speed. The sample return capsule’s batteries had come online successfully, which was a good sign because that battery is what sets the timed re-entry system aboard the capsule into action… which ultimately concludes in parachute deployment! Then, Mike took over to give a pep talk. 

 

Mike Moreau: 

A lot of people don’t realize OSIRIS-REx is probably one of the most challenging planetary missions, deep space exploration missions, NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has ever done. In my role in ten years of this project, I’ve seen several examples of just being so proud to be part of a team that can overcome any obstacle. I get choked up, even just thinking about it. So you guys have been preparing so hard for today. And today it’s here, we’re ready to do this… This is a huge endeavor. It’s something that our whole country and the whole world is watching. And you guys get to do it. Congratulations. 

 

Richard: 

O-REx on three, ready? One, two, three, O-Rex! OK, go recover this thing! We’ll see you on the ground! 

 

CHRISTIAN: With that, the field team left 1010. If everything went perfectly, they’d be welcoming the capsule back home at last in just under two hours. 

 

Richard: 

Vehicles depart in 10 minutes.  

 

[SFX: Door opens, sound of walking outside 1010] 

 

Christian: 

I saw you guys checking gear. 

 

Dante: 

We double checked our gear, it’s loaded up in the van, we’re ready to get over to the helicopters.  

 

Christian: 

Feeling good? 

 

Dante: 

Feeling good. Good morning. Yeah, watching the sunrise. Yeah, exciting morning but everything went right on schedule. Batteries came online, that’s the one I was waiting for the most. That felt good. 

 

[Song: “Tick and Twist Instrumental” by Doney Perry] 

 

Christian: 

So everything you want to see. 

 

Dante: 

Just that parachute. That’s the last thing for the flight system to work. Then it’s atmospherics. And O-REx has done its job. 

 

Scientist: 

Hurry up, we’re going to be late. Kidding, just kidding! 

 

Dante: 

Capsule will still be there. 

 

CHRISTIAN: You can hear it in Dante’s voice… It came up in interviews with every scientist I talked to in the days leading up to the sample return… the parachute just had to work. If it didn’t deploy, this day, the last twenty years of hundreds of engineers and researchers’ lives… and science experiments on asteroid rocks for generations to come… might have augured into the desert soil. 

 

[SFX: Tape recorder clicks on] 

 

Christian: 

So Dante Lauretta and the other members of this sample recovery team just took off from building 1010, the Mission Operations Center, after a bit of a pep talk from Mike Moreau and Richard Witherspoon. And they’re headed on over to the Michael Army Airfield hangar, where they’re about to board helicopters and head out to WIG Mountain to wait for the sample to land. So things are happening. It’s just a gorgeous morning. The sun just came up a few minutes ago. It’s a little after 7:30 and the mountains behind the base are just a beautiful color of red. 

 

[SFX: Scientists playing music from a cell phone] 

 

Christian: 

What a beautiful morning for it too. 

 

Scientist: 

Right? Yeah. 

 

[Song: “A Stoic Pause Instrumental” by Lomas] 

 

CHRISTIAN: The landing sequence may have had the scientists’ full attention, but it wasn’t the only part of the mission NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was worried about… teams at different locations and vantage points were focused on every detail, from helicopter maintenance to weather conditions, and prepared for any outcome. 

 

Helicopter pilot: 

Do shovels fit in the baggage? The extended baggage? 

 

[SFX: Clanking sound of loading gear into the helicopter] 

 

CHRISTIAN: The day before the sample return, I had a chance to check out the helicopters the mission was relying on. They might be responsible for dropping the field teams off in the desert and hauling the precious cargo back to 1012 as quickly as possible. I watched the field team load the helicopters with a custom cradle to carry the capsule, and shovels to dig it out of the mud if necessary, since it had rained a few days ago. I spoke to one of the pilots about some of their concerns… 

 

Pilot: 

Yeah, out there on the range. It’s fairly flat, but there are some sand dunes, sand dune areas and we’re really hoping it, the capsule stays in the center of the ellipse. We’ll be fine then. Either way, we’ll come back with it. We checked conditions today and unfortunately it did get a lot of rain the last few days. So it is pretty muddy. But if we have some wind and these warm temperatures today are going to dry it out. And we’re hoping it lands in one of the drier areas and that will help tremendously. But you can see on these skids.  

 

Christian: 

Yeah I see the mud.  

 

Pilot: 

Yeah, the mud’s, super sticky and we sink in about an inch and a half, two inches right now…   

 

CHRISTIAN: We sat down next to the helicopter to take a look at the hook and cable, called a longline, which might be used to haul the capsule back to the cleanroom from wherever it landed. 

 

Pilot: 

So his door will be off. And then they’ll hook up a longline, 100 foot synthetic cable or longline. They’ll hook him up to the capsule and they’ll have it all covered in they’ll have been netting and everything on it. He’ll gently pick it up, fly it in. Then he’ll gently lower it and once it’s on the ground and settled then he hits a button and releases the remote hook on the end of the line. He picks up and he comes over to MAAF with the long line and hook on and we’ll set down over here and job’s done. Yep, some precious cargo. 

 

CHRISTIAN: On the big day, at building 1010, a few minutes after Dante and his team had left in the vans, we watched those helicopters head off for WIG Mountain, the staging area 12 miles away. NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration video producer Liz Wilk was out there on the windy mountaintop keeping an eye out for us. 

 

[SFX: O-REx broadcast playing aloud: “The team is staged out at WIG and ready to go for helicopter operations to recover the sample. A few hours ago…”] 

 

Liz Wilk: 

Hi, my name is Liz. I’m a video producer for NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center. Right now I’m at what is called the WIG. It is an area or a little facility on top of WIG Mountain here on Dugway. It looks out towards where the ellipse were the OSIRIS-REx sample will be landing. It is a giant salt flat. When you look out towards it, it is very, very, very large. And there are mountains surrounding the area and just the mountains are so, so far away the area is so large, the mountains are so far away that they just barely pop out against the sky. 

 

CHRISTIAN: The landing ellipse Liz is talking about is, a huge 37-mile-long flat oval where the team hopes the capsule will land. That might sound like a big area, and it is, but it’s not easy to hit a target that size from millions of miles away in space!  

 

[SFX: Helicopters starting up at WIG] 

 

Liz: 

It seems like as soon as the sun came up, everything just got chaotic. Helicopters are here with Dante Lauretta.  

 

[SFX: Door opens, low chatter in recovery command room] 

 

[Song: “Point of No Return Underscore” by Gilmartin] 

 

CHRISTIAN: Meanwhile, with Dante gone to WIG, I went into the mission operations room, the nerve center for the mission. Richard, Mike, and the rest of the recovery command team all sat around a big table covered with papers and laptops. They were watching this big wall of monitors, waiting to spot the capsule coming down through the atmosphere. Across the range, NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and military spotters watched too, from surveillance airplanes and ground radar stations.  

 

Mike: 

Recovery command is stood up, and it’s a great day to collect a sample return capsule out here in Utah. Go OSIRIS-REx. 

 

Recovery command announcer: 

EDL milestone, SRC has entered the Earth’s atmosphere.  

 

 

CHRISTIAN: As the sample return capsule hit the atmosphere, going faster than the speed of sound, there was tension in that room for sure. 

 

UTTR radio: 

MCC has radar track. 

 

Richard: 

All stations, drogue deploy in two minutes. 

 

Mike: 

You can see it on WB, woo! 

 

UTTR radio: 

Helos are tracking capsule. 

 

CHRISTIAN: It was the moment of truth. They were all crossing their fingers that this mission mightn’t end like 2004, with a capsule of astromaterial crashing into the desert floor.  

 

Announcer: 

EDL milestone, SRC is experiencing maximum heating and maximum deceleration. Expecte EDL milestone, SRC commands drogue parachute deploy. 

 

UTTR radio: 

…We have slowed to 200 knots. 

 

Richard: 

All stations, five minutes to main deploy. 

 

UTTR radio: 

60,000 feet, still waiting on the chute. Passing through 37,000 feet. 

 

CHRISTIAN: But then, we can see the parachutes had deployed. 

 

[SFX: Cheering and clapping in mission operations] 

 

Announcer: 

Confirmed parachute deploy. 

 

Richard: 

All stations I have visual on SRC under main chute. 

 

CHRISTIAN: We watched from mission operations as the surveillance plane cameras tracked the bright orange parachute through the blue sky. Then we lost sight of it, as the capsule disappeared behind a hill… we cann’t tell if it was safe.  

 

UTTR radio: 

…over the horizon. Oh and it touched down. 

 

Richard: 

All stations we have visual confirmation of touchdown, however it went down behind a hill. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Mike and the other engineers and scientists were on the edge of their seats again. It took several minutes for the helicopters to fly across the huge ellipse.  

 

Announcer: 

Recovery operations. Helos one and two are in the area of the landing site. 

 

CHRISTIAN: But once they did, they can see the capsule sitting there with the parachute on the ground next to it, right next to a service road on a dry, flat patch of ground, just as the team had hoped. It was a perfect, gentle landing. Finally, everyone relaxed a bit.   

 

Announcer: 

Helo 2 has visual confirmation of SRC. I repeat, the SRC has been located. 

 

[SFX: Cheering in mission operations room] 

 

Scientist: 

I cann’t have imagined a more perfect… 

 

Christian: 

They parked it right next to the road! 

 

CHRISTIAN: From this point on it was all up to the recovery team… they had to make sure the area was safe, clear of any unexploded ordnance, since this is a military test facility… 

 

Field team: 

Recovery team is in the vicinity, beginning initial assessment. 

 

Announcer: 

Recovery operations, OSCR’s performing the unexploded ordnance survey 

 

Richard: 

All stations Vicky has removed her gas mask indicating that there are no toxic gasses in the area… 

 

CHRISTIAN: And that the capsule hadn’t been breached during reentry. 

 

Field team: 

SRC is dry, heat shield is nose down, there are no roll marks, no indication of… 

 

Richard: 

Do we have confirmation the SRC is not breached? 

 

Field team: 

SRC is not breached. 

 

[SFX: Cheers] 

 

CHRISTIAN: Once they’d determined it was safe, Dante’s team started collecting environmental samples around the capsule that might be used later to make sure the asteroid sample hadn’t been contaminated. 

 

Dante: 

Yeah! Looks good, huh? Parachute right next to it, man we did it! 

 

CHRISTIAN: Remember, the moment the capsule entered Earth’s atmosphere, the risk of contamination had been there…  

 

Dante: 

That beautiful baby. 

 

CHRISTIAN: …and until it got to the safety of a cleanroom, a special lab designed to keep the sample safe, that risk was only increasing. So their work was a race against time. 

 

Dante: 

Looks nominal, no sign of sample, so I’m going to stay away from that with the pink flag. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Back in mission operations on the big displays, I watched Dante and his team methodically go through the steps…  

 

Dante: 

OK, pink flags have been placed. 

 

CHRISTIAN: …crawling around on hands and knees collecting soil samples in little baggies… 

 

Dante: 

I think we might want to collect a few samples from in there. Ready? 

 

CHRISTIAN: …and planting flags, taking photographs, collecting air samples in canisters.  

 

Dante: 

PI photographs sample in the bag. This is a lot nicer actually. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Then the field recovery team from Lockheed Martin wrapped the capsule with netting and hooked it up to the helicopter, as they’d planned, while Dante’s team finished up the environmental sampling. Now, Dante and the field team’s work was officially done. It was time to hand things off to the cleanroom curation team scientists. 

 

[Song: “Off the Back Foot Instrumental” by Lomas] 

 

CHRISTIAN: A cleanroom is exactly what it sounds like… it’s a special kind of lab where the air is filtered and scientists wear special garments to keep all sorts of contaminants away from whatever they’re working on. The asteroid sample might eventually make its way to NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center, where engineers had built a specially designed top-of-the-line cleanroom just to house and study it safely for decades to come. 

 

But before it can be shipped there, scientists here in Utah might have to partially disassemble the capsule to get the sample canister inside, out. So they had to set up a temporary cleanroom here at Dugway, a sort of military field hospital for the sample built inside a hangar.  

 

In other words, before they can bring the capsule to the cleanroom, they had to bring a cleanroom to the capsule! It’s pretty unusual to build a cleanroom out in the middle of nowhere in the desert, so while we were waiting for the capsule to arrive by helicopter, the curation team told me about their setup. 

 

[Song: “Checkmate Instrumental” by Batchelor] 

 

Nicole Lunning: 

And so we basically are going to take the canister into progressively more clean spaces starting with the temporary cleanroom here in Utah, and then at Johnson Space Center, bringing it into an even cleaner cleanroom.  

 

CHRISTIAN: That’s Nicole Lunning, lead sample curator for OSIRIS-REx. I found her standing outside 1012, watching for the helicopters with Aaron Regberg, another curator, and the quality assurance representative from Johnson. He’s responsible for making sure everything about keeping the sample safe goes just right. He had his head deep in a thick manual, pages blowing in the breeze. 

 

Christian: 

That looks like a lengthy procedure book. 

 

Aaron Regberg: 

It’s pretty long, but it’s got a lot of white space. It’s easy to sort of check things off.  

 

Nicole: 

And it does take us all the way to the cleanroom at JSC. And there’s a bunch of spacecraft stuff that has already happened. 

 

Aaron:
Yeah we’re already on page 29 

 

CHRISTIAN: Aaron led the way down a long hallway into the hangar. 

 

Aaron: 

They were gonna do one last set of particle counts this morning to make sure that everything is working the way we expect it to. 

 

Christian: 

It’s as clean as you need it to be? 

 

Aaron: 

It’s cleaner than we need it to be. 

 

CHRISTIAN: While we walked, Aaron explained why this temporary cleanroom was so important. 

 

Aaron: 

Yeah, so the asteroid out in space has never been exposed to oxygen. So we’re trying to get the bulk of the sample under an inert gas as fast as possible. We’re going to use nitrogen for that. So this is, we’re essentially trying to keep this sample from rusting. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Even though the spacecraft has traveled through billions of miles of treacherous outer space to arrive here on Earth, the last few thousand miles from here in Utah to the Johnson Space Center in Texas were equally critical. The stakes were high. 

 

Aaron: 

There’s a number of disassembly steps that have to happen before we can actually get to the sample canister that has the port on it where we can start flowing nitrogen through it. 

 

Christian: 

It’s pretty well inside? 

 

Aaron: 

Yeah, yeah. So there’s the heat shield. And then there’s a back shell. And there’s some other things that have to come off before, before we get to the sample, the sample canister itself. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Until the capsule is open and the nitrogen purge is attached in this cleanroom, the rocks are at risk. 

 

[Song: “The Finishing Touch Instrumental” by Lawrence] 

 

Aaron: 

One of my jobs, so Julia, That’s Julia over there, are going to be stationed by those big, by the garage door with brushes and towels. And we’re going to sweep as much of the dirt off of the cannister, the capsule before it goes into the cleanroom as we can. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Inside the sort of drab beige hangar beyond the garage door was this huge shiny white cube structure with big air ducts and wires coming off of it. Inside, you can see a metal table, waiting for the capsule. 

  

Aaron: 

Yeah, so what we’re looking at is sort of a temporary room that we built inside this hangar-like space. And the walls are all made out of vinyl, and there’s some plastic windows and then the floor is made out of aluminum plate. And the way this works is there’s a big bank of HEPA filters in the ceiling. And so we have a big air handler that pulls in air from the hangar and pushes it through those HEPA filters to clean it. And then that air comes down from the ceiling and goes out, is exhausted through a set of vents on the right hand side of the room. So the idea is any particles that do make it through those filters should be swept down to the floor and out the side of the cleanroom. 

 

Christian: 

Gotcha.  

 

Aaron: 

We’re also all wearing cleanroom jumpsuits, or we call them bunny suits. So that’s a set of coveralls and shoe covers. And then on your head, you wear a hairnet and a mask. And that’s to protect the samples from us, not us from the samples. And then over that you wear a hood. And those are made out of polyester, those suits. And then you also wear gloves, of course, we’re really trying to keep the people from interacting with the sample as much as possible. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Though their work in the desert was complete, the job’s not done for these curation team scientists. They’ll follow the sample to Johnson, where their work opening the canister, documenting how much sample they have and studying it will begin at last.  

 

Christian: 

And this is just the beginning for you? 

 

Aaron: 

This is just the beginning for us. We’ve got several months worth of work ahead of us. 

 

Christian: 

Well thank you for taking me over here. 

 

 

CHRISTIAN: Then I had to get out of there… I wasn’t clean enough for the hangar housing the cleanroom once the sample came in. And just in time! 

 

[SFX: Sound of helicopter dropping off capsule, cheers] 

 

[Song: “Tell No Lies Instrumental” by Wheeler] 

 

CHRISTIAN: I stood in the crowd of scientists and engineers and communicators on the runway behind some safety barriers and watched, holding my hat on against the rotor wash, as the helicopter hovered over us and lowered the capsule gentle to the ground. It was wild just knowing that we were a few feet away from 4.5 billion-year-old rocks… special delivery from outer space. I was standing next to Jason Dworkin, the mission Project Scientist, who’s also been on the team since 2004. 

 

Jason Dworkin: 

Since before it was a project, so 19 years. 

 

Christian: 

Wow. So how does it feel to be walking up to it right now? 

 

Jason: 

Exhilarating, it’s been a long time, long wait. And for me I’m a sample scientist, so my time to do the science is just about to begin. And it’s thrilling. 

 

Christian: 

19 years of waiting for it to be here and now… 

 

Jason: 

And now here we are. 

 

[SFX: Sound of getting into a car, closing doors] 

 

CHRISTIAN: While the curation team got to work out of view in the cleanroom, I hitched a ride back to the Michael Army Airfield with Mike Moreau… 

 

Mike: 

It seems like just another rehearsal, huh? 

 

CHRISTIAN: …to welcome the field team back, just as their helicopters were landing there.  

 

Scientist: 

Thanks for being here. 

 

Christian: 

Thanks for letting me be in the room there. 

 

Mike: 

Curious Universe right? 

 

Christian: 

Yes Curious Universe, so I’m a producer based at Goddard. 

 

Mike: 

Go ahead, this is recovery command 

 

Field team: 

Copy recovery command, show helo four inbound to MAAF, approximately 15 mikes. 

 

Mike: 

Copy that, 15 mikes. 

 

CHRISTIAN: That was the helicopter carrying Dante Lauretta and the field sampling team back to the airfield. 

 

Mike: 

All stations, recovery helicopter four is on its way back to MAAF, 15 minutes ETA.  

 

CHRISTIAN: In the car seat next to me, Mike had to remind himself that what we just saw was real… not just another practice run. It had gone so perfectly it was easy to forget. 

 

Mike: 

Richard and I were talking about the fact that this is kind of surreal, seems like just another rehearsal. So you kind of have to stop yourself and think about the fact that that was really the capsule that’s been that we launched seven years ago that we’ve worked so hard on. 

 

Scientist:
It gives me chills when you say it like that. 

 

[SFX: Car stops, doors open] 

 

Man to Mike: 

Hey Mike, congratulations man. 

 

[SFX: Tape recorder clicks on] 

 

Christian: 

So we just drove back to the MAAF hanger from the Avery complex. Hitched a ride with Mike Moreau. And now the place is really hopping. The VIP tent is full, the press tent is full… 

 

[SFX: Tape recorder clicks off] 

 

[Song: “The Accusation Unfolds Instrumental” by Lomas] 

 

Patrick Lynch: 

The last helicopter, helicopter four, is on its way back. Hopefully landing here in a few minutes. We hope Dante Lauretta our PI will be able to step in and say a few remarks from the field…  

 

[SFX: Helicopter landing] 

 

CHRISTIAN: Then Dante landed and walked off the helicopter, across the runway and right onto the stage. Watching him hop off that helicopter, you can tell a weight that had been there for several years had lifted off his shoulders. 

 

Dante: 

So, thank you to everybody. The team has done an enormous job. This is what happens when you practice, practice, practice and practice. Everything goes perfectly. Couldn’t be more proud of this mission…  

 

[SFX: Cheers, clapping] 

 

Dante: 

I cried like a baby in that helicopter when they told me that parachute had been spotted, I’ll tell you what. That was the end of a long, long day. 

 

CHRISTIAN: Dante had never intended to lead a space mission… he’d planned to spend his career as a lab scientist. But he stepped in as leader of the OSIRIS-REx mission after his advisor and mentor died unexpectedly in 2011. Now, that privilege and burden was at an end. The spacecraft, now called OSIRIS-APEX, will fly on to another asteroid, called Apophis, with a new leader, one of Dante’s students. And he’ll get to go back to his roots… studying rocks in the lab. 

 

Dante: 

So the best times are ahead of us, I always feel that way. We’re gonna get in that TAGSAM, we’re gonna see those samples and we’re going to rewrite the history of the solar system with the material that we’ve brought back here. 

 

CHRISTIAN: And OSIRIS-REx isn’t the end for Dante Lauretta either. He won’t say too much, but like any good scientist, he’s already looking for where to go next. 

 

Dante: 

Sample return missions are the future. They’re the gift that keeps on giving. You get answers you can never get from space based instruments. I’ve been involved in a concept for comet sample return. So that’s the one I’m most excited about. 

 

[Song: “Mad Scientist Instrumental” by Doney Perry] 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: The next day, the sample canister of precious materials from Bennu boarded a C-17 cargo plane and flew to its new home at NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center. 

 

[SFX: C-17 engines running] 

 

Liz: 

The C-17 crew have started the plane to start getting it ready to load and to take off. 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: At the new astromaterials lab at Johnson, the asteroid sample joined the largest collection of extra-terrestrial materials in the world, dating back to the Apollo missions. In the new cleanroom built to house it, scientists began the delicate process of retrieving the sample, revealing their early results to the public. 

 

[NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Administrator Bill Nelson at OSIRIS-REx sample reveal event: “So, you ready to see the results of the mission? Take a peek!”] 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: They found an abundance of asteroid material not only in the container, but also coating it. Every grain has the potential to reveal new secrets of the solar system. These pristine rocks will provide a whole new context for all the meteorites already in NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s collection… and help scientists understand how our solar system formed… and whether asteroids like Bennu delivered some of the organic materials necessary to seed the beginning of life on Earth.  

[Bill Nelson: “So the first analysis shows samples that contain abundant water in the form of hydrated clay minerals, and they contain carbon, carbon being the central element of life.”] 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: Portions of the OSIRIS-REx sample will be loaned to scientists in small quantities over the coming months and years. About 70% of the sample will be preserved unopened for decades so that generations to come can study them… using technologies not yet invented to answer questions we haven’t yet thought to ask. 

 

[Bill Nelson: “Everything is a new discovery as we are glimpsing the early part of this magnificent thing called the universe.”] 

 

HOST PADI BOYD: Plus, lessons learned from keeping these Bennu rocks pristine will usher in a new era of astromaterials science… as NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to bring back samples from the Moon, Mars and beyond. 

 

[Theme song: Curiosity by SYSTEM Sounds]  

 

HOST PADI BOYD: This is NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Curious Universe. This episode was written and produced by Christian Elliott. Our executive producer is Katie Konans. The Curious Universe team includes Jacob Pinter, Maddie Olson and Micheala Sosby. Krystofer Kim is our show artist. 

     

Our theme song was composed by Matt Russo and Andrew Santaguida of SYSTEM Sounds. Special thanks to Rachel Barry, Keegan Barber, Liz Wilk, Arlene Islas [ee-luhs] Liz Landau and the entire OSIRIS-REx team… at NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the University of Arizona, Lockheed Martin, and our military partners… for giving us behind the scenes access to the sample return in Utah.  

 

If you enjoyed this episode of NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Curious Universe, the best way to show your support is by leaving us a review and sharing the show with a friend. And, remember, you can “follow” NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Curious Universe in your favorite podcast app to get a notification each time we post a new episode.  

 

 


Disasters Expo USA, is proud to be supported by Inergency for their next upcoming edition on March 6th & 7th 2024!

The leading event mitigating the world’s most costly disasters is returning to the Miami Beach

Convention Center and we want you to join us at the industry’s central platform for emergency management professionals.
Disasters Expo USA is proud to provide a central platform for the industry to connect and
engage with the industry’s leading professionals to better prepare, protect, prevent, respond
and recover from the disasters of today.
Hosting a dedicated platform for the convergence of disaster risk reduction, the keynote line up for Disasters Expo USA 2024 will provide an insight into successful case studies and
programs to accurately prepare for disasters. Featuring sessions from the likes of The Federal Emergency Management Agency,
NASA, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, TSA and several more this event is certainly providing you with the knowledge
required to prepare, respond and recover to disasters.
With over 50 hours worth of unmissable content, exciting new features such as their Disaster
Resilience Roundtable, Emergency Response Live, an Immersive Hurricane Simulation and
much more over just two days, you are guaranteed to gain an all-encompassing insight into
the industry to tackle the challenges of disasters.
By uniting global disaster risk management experts, well experienced emergency
responders and the leading innovators from the world, the event is the hub of the solutions
that provide attendees with tools that they can use to protect the communities and mitigate
the damage from disasters.
Tickets for the event are $119, but we have been given the promo code: HUGI100 that will
enable you to attend the event for FREE!

So don’t miss out and register today: https://shorturl.at/aikrW

And in case you missed it, here is our ultimate road trip playlist is the perfect mix of podcasts, and hidden gems that will keep you energized for the entire journey

-

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More