'Incredible': NASA hails return of asteroid sample

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STORY: At a news conference, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze called the retrieval - of the largest soil sample ever scooped up from the surface of an asteroid streaking through Earth's atmosphere - "incredible".

The gumdrop-shaped capsule, released from the robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx as the mothership passed within 67,000 miles (107,826 km) of Earth hours earlier, touched down within a designated landing zone west of Salt Lake City.

Osiris-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta laid out the goals of studying the asteroid, named Bennu, to the media. "The key objective for me and one of the driving objectives of this program is to try to understand, did carbon-rich asteroids, like Bennu, deliver the compounds that may have led to the origin of life on our planet?"

He also assured people the sample poses a low risk for planet Earth.

The final descent and landing, shown on a NASA livestream, capped a six-year joint mission between the U.S. space agency and the University of Arizona. It was only the third asteroid sample, and by far the biggest, ever returned to Earth for analysis, following two similar missions by Japan's space agency ending in 2010 and 2020.