NASA sets date to research asteroid Bennu after coronavirus pandemic caused delays

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After getting delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, NASA has finally picked out a date to research samples of the asteroid Bennu.

The space agency said that it now expects the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to begin its first attempt at sampling the asteroid on Oct. 20. The initial date was Aug. 25, but that was pushed back because of the pandemic. The second rehearsal, which was initially scheduled for June, will now take place on Aug. 11.

"The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science, said in a statement earlier this week. "That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for — securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I'm very excited to follow them through the home stretch."

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

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Since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018, OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer) has been observing the space rock and looking for spots to land.

It has snapped some incredible images of the asteroid and made observations about it that have surprised researchers, including the fact it was shooting out rocks.

“This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

In December 2019, prior to the pandemic, NASA picked the spot where it would land on the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx is expected to begin a two-year journey back to Earth in the middle of 2021 and return with samples in September 2023.

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Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this story.