AKA – Contamination Science Investigation for OSIRIS-REx

OSIRIS-REx is driven by the top-level science objective to return >60 g of pristine, carbonaceousregolith from asteroid Bennu.  In support of this objective, OSIRIS-REx has a team of sample scientists, based at Johnson Space Center (JSC), who are capable of analyzing material down to the atomic level. They are anxiously awaiting their chance to apply an awesome array of instruments to understand the composition and structure of the returned sample. In the meantime, they are deploying these tools to ensure that the returned sample remains pristine. Read on to find out how we get this job done.

OSIRIS-REx Sample Science is led by Scott Messenger at NASA-JSC OSIRIS-REx Sample Science is led by Scott Messenger (right) at NASA-JSC

Lindsay Keller (back) and Keiko Nakamura-Messenger (front) provide key support for OSIRIS-REx Sample Science Lindsay Keller (back) and Keiko Nakamura-Messenger (front) provide key support for OSIRIS-REx Sample Science

The Target – Pristine Carbonaceous Regolith

Regolith is the blanket of rock that covers the asteroid surface…

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Orion Underway Recovery Test at Sea



Orion URT Helicopter Crew

Image Science and Analysis Group (ISAG) personnel traveled this week to San Diego to participate in the Orion Underway Recovery Test (URT).  The Underway Recovery Test (URT) will take place up to 100 miles off the San Diego, CA coast and will exercise procedures for photo documentation of the crew module external surfaces during recovery operations. ISAG personnel will oversee the execution of plans they developed for acquiring, cataloging, and managing the distribution of imagery.

Getting Prepared with Helicopter and Cameras.   In preparation for the URT, ISAG personnel coordinated a final fit check of camera equipment onboard a Navy helicopter and assisted the choreography of airborne photographers in the takeoff/landing and in-flight “ready-for-­acquisition” configurations.


Orion URT Helicopter Camera


Orion URT Helicopter Harness Checkout

University and NASA Scientists Simulate Effects of Lightning in Primordial Earth System

51039 Miller Urey Origin of Life on Earth Experiment

The linked article and video give step-by-step instructions on how to conduct Miller-Urey spark discharge experiments.

The manuscript “Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments” was published in Jan 2014 in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. The experiment was a study of the chemical, rather than biological, generation of organic compounds that may have relevance to the origin of life.  Simple gases were introduced into a glass apparatus and subjected to an electric discharge, simulating the effects of lightning in the primordial Earth’s atmosphere-ocean system. The experiment was conducted for one week, after which, the samples collected from it were analyzed for the chemical building blocks of life.

Aaron Burton, a scientist at NASA JSC, Astromaterial Research and Exploration Science Directorate is a co-author, along with others from five other organizations and universities.  With the manuscript, there is a how-to video and article on how to perform the famous spark discharge experiments first performed by Stanley Miller in the 1950s, revealing the formation of amino acids from spark discharges of a reducing atmosphere.  These experiments coupled with the subsequent discovery of extraterrestrial organic molecules in meteorites shortly thereafter sparked the birth of the field of Astrobiology. They are still of interest today because advances in analytical instruments and techniques have greatly improved our ability to analyze the spark discharge products, enhancing our knowledge of chemistry that could have taken place on the primordial Earth.


Parker, E. T., Cleaves, J. H., Burton, A. S., Glavin, D. P., Dworkin, J. P., Zhou, M., et al. Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments. J. Vis. Exp. (83), e51039, doi:10.3791/51039 (2014).