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July 24, 2023

Media advisory: Interview and tour opportunities at the UArizona facility where scientists will study OSIRIS-REx sample

  • What: Ahead of sample return in the Utah desert later this fall, there will be interview and tour opportunities at the University of Arizona facility where scientists will study the OSIRIS-REx sample from the asteroid Bennu.
  • When: Wednesday, July 26, at 10 a.m.
  • Where: Gerard P. Kuiper Space Sciences building, located at 1629 E. University Blvd.
  • RSVP by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25, to Mikayla Kelley at

TUCSON, Ariz. – The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will drop a capsule loaded with rocks and dust collected from the asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert on Sept. 24, marking the beginning of a new era of science.

Local media members unable to be on-site at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for sample return – and media preparing preview stories – are invited to capture interviews and b-roll at the University of Arizona facility that houses the instruments and people involved in sample investigation.

The NASA OSIRIS-REx mission seeks to uncover secrets about the dawn of the solar system and the origin of life itself.

The larger-than-life questions that mission scientists hope to answer require powerful instruments and minds. The Kuiper Materials Imaging & Characterization Facility provides routine access to state-of-the-art instrumentation that combines 2-D and 3-D analysis of composition and structure of materials for both UArizona and other scientists.

The Kuiper Materials Imaging & Characterization Facility is located in the basement of the Gerard P. Kuiper Space Sciences building, which was constructed in 1966 with funds provided by NASA. In December, NASA awarded a four-year, nearly $3 million grant to support OSIRIS-REx sample science and other missions. The Kuiper Materials Imaging & Characterization Facility serves the entire university community, including regional private- and public-sector users.

The university-led OSIRIS-REx mission was designed to return at least 60 grams – a little over 2 ounces – of material from Bennu. In a paper published last summer, the mission team now estimated that the spacecraft collected about 250 grams, or 8.8 ounces of material, give or take 101 grams. Scientists will know for sure how much they collected when they open the sample return capsule.

NASA will distribute 25% of the sample to the mission's science team members, who are spread all over the world and include many at UArizona. A fraction of the sample will eventually be released to investigators who are not part of the OSIRIS-REx science team, and the remainder will be curated for future generations of researchers.

Mission scientists available for interviews include:

  • Thomas Zega, a Lunar and Planetary Laboratory professor, director of the Kuiper Materials Imaging & Characterization Facility and lead scientist for the Mineralogy and Petrology Working Group on OSIRIS-REx
  • Jessica Barnes, a Lunar and Planetary Laboratory assistant professor and lead scientist for the Sample Elements and Isotopes Analysis Working Group on OSIRIS-REx
  • Pierre Haenecour, a Lunar and Planetary Laboratory assistant professor and lead scientist for the Sample Analysis Data Archiving Working Group on OSIRIS-REx

Zega and Haenecour are also part of NASA's quick-look team. At Johnson Space Center in Houston during the days following sample return, NASA will grant this team a small portion of the sample to conduct the first science. From that analysis, NASA plans to release images and data on Oct. 11.

All three UArizona experts can speak in-depth about the instruments used in the facility and the questions that the team seeks to answer.

One-on-one interviews with the mission principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, Regents Professor of planetary sciences, will be available at a later date.

The NASA website has more information about NASA's plans for sample return.

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Media contact:
Mikayla Kelley

University Communications

The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2021 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $824 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 71 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually.