OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer. It's a spacecraft that departed our planet back in 2016 to complete a journey 1.4 billion miles (2.25 billion km) long to and from an asteroid called Bennu.
This piece of floating rock was discovered in 1999 and is estimated to be 490 meters (1,607 meters) in diameter. It was chosen as a target for the mission because of its age – approximately 4.5 billion years – which makes it a prime candidate for being "a type of building block of our solar system's rocky planet," hence a window into our own past. That includes potential answers into how organic material was transported to our planet and eventually turned into life.
The spaceship reached its target two years after launch, in 2018, and spent the following three years orbiting it and collecting samples from its surface. It started headed back home in 2021, carrying with it the precious cargo.
OSIRIS' saga will end this weekend with the landing scheduled to take place at the Utah Test and Training Range. As it often does with such high-profile missions, NASA has people and gear in place for a momentous coverage.
It will all start on September 24 at 10 AM EDT, and you can watch the entire event live on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency's website. The coverage will be performed primarily in English, but the streams over on Facebook, X, and YouTube will also be available in Spanish. The entire day will conclude with a press conference scheduled for 5 PM EDT.
Once the sample is safely on the ground, NASA will move it to a new curation facility already established at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. From there, broken into tiny pieces, the sample will head to labs around the world, to be studied by an army of scientists.
As for the spaceship that brings a piece of Bennu to Earth, it will remain in orbit and be repurposed for another mission. Renamed OSIRIS-APEX, it will head out back into space, targeting asteroid Apophis for an extended survey.