Unlocking the Secrets of Asteroid Bennu: NASA’s TAGSAM Conundrum

Unlocking the Secrets of Asteroid Bennu: NASA’s TAGSAM Conundrum

NASA is facing a significant challenge in opening the container that holds the precious sample of asteroid dirt from Bennu. The Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) container was sealed too well, posing difficulties for scientists. The TAGSAM needs to be opened in a specially designed glovebox to prevent contamination from Earth. This pristine sample is of immense value to scientists, and they want to ensure they can study it without any interference. The container plays a crucial role in preserving the integrity of the sample, as all extraction procedures must occur in a sealed clean box under a controlled nitrogen environment.

A Stuck TAGSAM Head and Approved Tools Constraints

The TAGSAM is the head of the collection arm that successfully retrieved a sample of dirt from the surface of asteroid Bennu in 2020. The sealed TAGSAM head was then transported by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft back to Earth. However, the head was secured with 35 fasteners, and two of them cannot be removed using the current tools approved for use in the glovebox. Removing the TAGSAM head from the glovebox poses the risk of contamination, which scientists are determined to avoid. Finding a solution has become a challenging puzzle that requires innovative thinking and careful maneuvering.

The NASA team has been relentlessly working to develop alternative approaches to extract the asteroid material from the TAGSAM head while maintaining the sample’s safety and integrity. It is essential to ensure that any tools used fit inside the glovebox, do not compromise the sample’s integrity, and adhere to clean room standards. The complexities of the problem are not to be underestimated, but the team’s determination fuels their drive to find a solution.

While grappling with the TAGSAM container, there is a silver lining for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team. The initial goal was to obtain a minimum of 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of Bennu dust using the TAGSAM. However, by carefully exploring material from the travel canister and the exterior of the TAGSAM, the team has managed to collect an impressive 70.3 grams (2.48 ounces) of asteroid Bennu material. This unexpected bounty opens up exciting possibilities for scientific research. Inside the container, there could be up to an estimated 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of dirt, magnifying the potential scientific discoveries that lie ahead.

Finding a solution to open the TAGSAM container will take time and careful deliberation. While the science team continues their efforts, the TAGSAM has been temporarily placed back into the transfer container to ensure its cleanliness and uncontaminated state. It is sealed with an O-ring and a teflon bag filled with nitrogen. Meanwhile, the 70.3 grams of asteroid Bennu material collected from outside the TAGSAM is ready for scientific exploration. The wait to unlock the secrets hidden within the TAGSAM container may be a few weeks longer, but the promise of new knowledge and insights gained from the sparkling black dirt anticipates an exciting future.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarked on its mission back in 2016, and this extended endeavor is not deterred by a few more weeks of anticipation. The mission to bring back samples from asteroid Bennu is a testament to human curiosity and our desire to push the boundaries of scientific exploration. The wealth of data and information that the samples will provide makes the wait worthwhile. The OSIRIS-REx team, alongside scientists and enthusiasts worldwide, eagerly anticipates the unveiling of the treasure trove hiding within the TAGSAM container.

NASA’s progress on accessing and studying the asteroid Bennu sample is temporarily hindered by the challenge of opening the TAGSAM container. Nonetheless, their dedication to finding innovative solutions, coupled with the unexpected bounty of collected material, fuels optimism for extraordinary scientific discoveries in the near future. Patience is a virtue, and the wait to unlock the secrets of Bennu is an essential part of the scientific journey.


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