NASA gives sneak peek at a future lab for studying asteroid samples

NASA's Johnson Space Center has offered the public a look at the laboratory currently under construction, one that will be used to study asteroid samples and other 'cosmic mysteries.' The sneak peek includes a render of one of the planned labs, which will be managed by the space agency's Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division (ARES).

NASA's OSIRIS-REx space mission is preparing to collect a sample from the asteroid Bennu. The space agency has been extensively studying and preparing for this sample collection event for months, with the big event scheduled to take place in the coming days. The sample will be stored safely on the spacecraft, which will then return to Earth.

This mission will give scientists the opportunity to study an asteroid sample directly from Bennu, offering an unprecedented look at this type of material unadulterated by a trip through the atmosphere. NASA's scientists anticipate 'major insights' into the formation of asteroids and similar space rocks, among other things, according to the space agency.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, the Bennu asteroid sample will return to Earth in 2023 — and by that time, the Johnson Space Center plans to have finished building a laboratory to 'study the material down to the molecular level without damage,' NASA detailed on Tuesday. In addition to building the labs, this effort will also include new tools, storage areas, and cleaning facilities.

The Bennu regolith sample is expected to weigh between 3 ounces and 4.4lbs; NASA points out that scientists will need to be able to handle and study this material without potentially damaging or contaminating it. ARES staff will be tasked with retrieving the asteroid sample when it returns to Earth in a few years, keeping it safe on its trip to Houston.