At 12:37 a.m. EDT (10:37 a.m. MDT), a helicopter gently placed NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample capsule, attached to the end of a 100-foot cable, on the ground outside a hangar on the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. Two technicians on the ground helped guide the capsule down.
Once the helicopter line was detached and the helicopter had departed, the clean room team removed the capsule from its metal transport cradle. They loaded the capsule onto a cart and wheeled it into the hangar where a temporary clean room had been set up. In the hangar, the capsule was fully unwrapped and cleaned, and then taken into the clean room for disassembly.
To protect the clean room from contaminants, only six people are allowed inside. Covered from head to toe in bunny suits, hoods, nitrile gloves, shoe covers, plus hair and beard covers, their job is to disassemble the capsule and remove the unopened sample canister inside. They will package all the parts for transport by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday morning.
As soon as the disassembly team opens the capsule and removes several components, exposing the unopened sample canister, the plan is to connect the canister to a continuous flow of nitrogen, which will be monitored every hour. Nitrogen is an inert gas that will protect the Bennu sample from oxygen, moisture, and other contaminants; NASA has used nitrogen to protect space samples since the Apollo era.
If clean room staff find loose asteroid particles inside the capsule, they will collect them and place them in aluminum cups for transfer to Johnson.
The disassembly and packaging process is expected to last about five hours, with a clean room technician documenting the process for NASA’s history records.