SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Physics departments on college campuses across KELOLAND are marveling at the just-completed NASA mission that collected samples from a near-earth asteroid. The spacecraft carrying the samples landed in the Utah desert on Sunday. The cosmic payload could give researchers new insights into how our solar system formed, and maybe even the origin of life on earth.

Augustana’s physics department calls the Osiris Rex mission to an asteroid, and back, nothing short of mind-boggling.

“I don’t know if I can describe just how difficult it is to land on a moving body like that, that is so small! The force of gravity from that thing is nothing to the force of gravity on earth, so it’s not like you even stay there, you sort of bounce,” Augustana Physics Chair Nathan Grau said.

The space capsule launched back in 2016 and traveled billions of miles before returning to earth over the weekend. It’s a lesson to students about the painstaking patience required when doing science.

“When you stop and think about that, the students that are at Augustana, they would have been in middle school or even elementary school most of them, when we launched this mission and we’re only now getting the data back from it now,” Augustana physics professor Drew Alton said.

“Just something as simple as that can take years to get there and come back, I can’t even imagine what else is out there,” Augustana senior Riley Stallman said.

The Osiris Rex mission is expected to be a topic of conversation inside of Augie classrooms and serve as a kind of launching pad for interest in the field of astronomy.

“Astronomy is definitely something that I’m interested in and it’s definitely nice to know that there are a lot of future projects that might be coming up, or there’s still a lot to learn that I can go into,” Augustana sophomore Adrienne Lewis said.

Space dust from an asteroid is sprinkling the imaginations of young minds about the potential of science far beyond the confines of the classroom.

Augie physics teachers point out that this is the first time NASA has brought back samples from space since the Apollo moon landings.