This new 20-stamp pane from the U.S. Postal Service celebrates NASA’s seven-year OSIRIS-REx mission to study and map the asteroid Bennu and return a sample of the surface to Earth in September 2023. This is the first pristine sample of an asteroid collected by the United States, and it will help scientists learn how our solar system formed.
The stamp artwork shows the capsule containing the sample parachuting to the Utah Test and Training Range, a U.S. Department of Defense facility in the desert. A depiction of Bennu’s surface appears at the bottom of the pane’s selvage with outer space above — deep blue and dappled with celestial bodies. A view of the asteroid is in the upper right corner.
OSIRIS-REx left Earth aboard a rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Sept. 8, 2016, then orbited the sun for a year before passing close to Earth for a gravity assist. The spacecraft arrived in the asteroid’s vicinity in December 2018 and got to work. With its special cameras and spectrometers, it began photographing and mapping Bennu’s surface to determine the best site from which to collect samples.
The time for the rendezvous arrived in October 2020. To carry out its task, the spacecraft did not actually land on the asteroid but instead slowly descended toward the surface and extended a robotic arm. A collection device at the hand-end of the arm then released a sudden puff of nitrogen gas that sent up a cloud of dust and rocks from Bennu’s surface. More than 2 ounces of these materials were captured in a special container in the collection device, which then closed and retracted into the spacecraft. On May 10, 2021, OSIRIS-REx began its flight back toward Earth. Its container of asteroid dust and rocks, enclosed in a special capsule, will parachute to the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023.
Alan Dingman illustrated the stamp and pane, basing his work on images supplied by NASA. Antonio Alcalá, an art director for USPS, designed the stamp and pane.