After orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touched down and reached out its robotic arm to collect a sample from the asteroid surface on Tuesday.
That sample will be returned to Earth in 2023.
To achieve this historic first for NASA, a van-size spacecraft had to briefly touch down its arm in a landing site called Nightingale. The site is the width of a few parking spaces.
The arm reached out to collect a sample, which could be between 2 ounces and 2 kilograms. Then, the spacecraft backed away to safety.
Rather than the so-called "seven minutes of terror" of trying to land the Perseverance rover on Mars next year, the OSIRIS-REx team has experienced "4.5 hours of mild anxiousness," according to Beth Buck, the mission operations program manager at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.
The event officially started at 1:57 p.m. ET.
During this time, the spacecraft descended from its orbit around the asteroid and came close enough to touch it.
The asteroid and spacecraft are currently about 207 million miles from Earth, which cause a communication delay of about 18.5 minutes between the mission team and the spacecraft.
The team at NASA has been sharing animations on the mission Twitter account depicting what is occurring based on the commands that have already been sent to OSIRIS-REx hours ahead for the sample collection sequence.
A livestream also began at 5 p.m. ET on NASA site that shares animations and insight from the mission team as they explain the data they are receiving.
The spacecraft performed the entire sequence of approaching the asteroid and collecting the sample autonomously since live commands from Earth were not possible.