It might seem like the most difficult part of an asteroid sample collection mission will be collecting soil from an orbiting space body and bringing it back to Earth, but it turns out that the real problem is opening the sample container. It took approximately three months, but NASA says it has finally removed the two stuck caps, which prevented access to the material collected from the asteroid Bennu by its OSIRIS-REx probe. OSIRIS-REx landed a sample on September 24 before heading out to study another asteroid, Apophis.
NASA scientists led by Dr. Nicole Lunning, curator of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx program, they were initially able to remove a few grams of material that was on the outside of the container TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go-Sample Acquisition Mechanism), but its internal contents remained locked due to problems with the fasteners that hold the container closed. The TAGSAM is housed in a special glove box to prevent sample contamination, and only certain tools are approved for handling it. None of the existing tools were able to open the container, so the team had to develop new ones.
Now that the TAGSAM warhead has been freed, the team can move forward with dismantling the container – meaning we’ll soon be able to take a look at what’s inside. A preliminary analysis of dust and rocks from the outside of TAGSAM by NASA, demonstrated the presence of carbon and water.