NASA’s OSIRIS-REx curation engineer, Neftali Hernandez, recently overcame a significant hurdle by attaching specially developed tools to remove the two final fasteners hindering the complete disassembly of the TAGSAM head. This head contains the remaining material collected from the asteroid Bennu. Situated at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the engineering team successfully liberated these fasteners on January 10.The next steps involve proceeding with the disassembly of the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head, ultimately revealing the rocks and dust gathered during NASA’s groundbreaking asteroid sample return mission.
Eileen Stansbery, the division chief for ARES (Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science) at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, commended the relentless efforts of engineers and scientists who have been diligently working behind the scenes. Stansbery highlighted their months-long commitment to processing over 70 grams of previously accessed material and, crucially, designing, developing, and testing new tools. Overcoming this obstacle showcases the team’s remarkable innovation and dedication. Stansbery expressed collective excitement about unveiling the remaining treasure held by OSIRIS-REx.
Once a few more disassembly steps are completed, the entirety of the bulk sample will become fully visible. Image specialists will then capture ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sample while it remains inside the TAGSAM head. Subsequently, this section of the sample will be extracted and weighed, enabling the team to ascertain the total mass of Bennu material captured during the OSIRIS-REx mission.The pause in the curation process occurred in mid-October when the disassembly of the TAGSAM head hardware was temporarily halted. This decision was prompted by the discovery that two of the 35 fasteners couldn’t be removed using the tools approved for use inside the OSIRIS-REx glovebox.
In response to the challenges faced during the disassembly process, two innovative multi-part tools were specifically designed and crafted to facilitate the further breakdown of the TAGSAM head. These tools incorporate newly custom-fabricated bits composed of a particular grade of surgical, non-magnetic stainless steel—the toughest metal approved for use in the pristine curation gloveboxes.
Dr. Nicole Lunning, OSIRIS-REx curator at Johnson, emphasized the additional complexities involved in designing these tools. Not only were they constrained by the necessity of using curation-approved materials to preserve the scientific integrity of the asteroid sample, but they also had to function within the confined space of the glovebox. This constraint limited their height, weight, and potential arc movement. Despite these challenges, the curation team demonstrated impressive resilience and accomplished remarkable work in successfully removing the stubborn fasteners from the TAGSAM head. Dr. Lunning expressed overjoyed satisfaction with the team’s success.
Before the successful removal of the fasteners, the Johnson team meticulously tested the new tools and removal procedures in a rehearsal lab. After each successful test, engineers incrementally increased assembly torque values and repeated testing procedures, ensuring the tools could achieve the required torque without risking damage to the TAGSAM head or contaminating the sample.
Even without complete disassembly, the curation team had already gathered 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of asteroid material, surpassing NASA’s goal of bringing at least 60 grams to Earth. They fulfilled all sample requests from the OSIRIS-REx science team and hermetically sealed portions of the Bennu sample for enhanced preservation over extended periods. Storage conditions vary, with some samples kept at ambient temperature and others at -112 Fahrenheit (-80 degrees Celsius). In the upcoming spring, the curation team plans to release a comprehensive catalog of the OSIRIS-REx samples, providing global scientific communities with