NASA launches sampling mission to potentially risky asteroid

Courtesy of MGN Online

The satellite, OSIRIS-REx, was situated aboard an Atlas V rocket that appeared to launch without a hitch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral at 7:05 p.m. EST on Thursday night, September 8.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA’s first asteroid-sampling spacecraft was poised for an evening takeoff Thursday as crowds gathered to witness the start of its seven-year quest. Born out of the chaos surrounding the sun’s formation, a survivor of the cataclysmic accumulation, bombardment and rearrangement of planets, Bennu is a 4.5-billion-year-old relic.

“By getting a piece of an asteroid, we know that exactly the same kind of material was landing on the Earth way back when”, said Jason Dworkin, chief of astrochemistry at NASA.

“Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team”, said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Bennu was not selected at random, said Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, the mission’s program scientist at NASA.

“We are going to map this brand-new world that we have never seen before”, principal investigator Dante Lauretta said.

Convenience was also a factor, since Bennu is actually fairly close to Earth. Neither is vacuuming samples off an asteroid.

SNC’s SADAs will keep the two large solar arrays directed at the sun over its seven-year-mission, allowing them to generate power for the five scientific exploration instruments and sample collection devise on board the spacecraft. In addition to attending the OSIRIS-REx launch, participants are shadowing USA space professionals, touring Lockheed Martin’s virtual reality engineering lab, and seeing satellite production facilities.

“That’s a level of understanding we don’t have on Earth right now, and that’s something we really need”, says Richey. Japan’s Hayabusa 1 probe managed to return a few tiny grains of asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010, the first asteroid sample return mission.

By studying uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source, scientists intend to understand the condition of early Earth and other planetary bodies. Osiris-Rex’s bounty, however, should surpass that; Lauretta and his team are hoping for at least 60 grams of dust and gravel, or 2 ounces’ worth. But the maneuvers practiced on this mission could inform a future effort to deal with a potentially hazardous asteroid – if one ever threatened. Then it’s another year of traveling through space until OSIRIS-REx reaches the asteroid in August 2018.

In 2010, JAXA, the Japanese space agency, was the first institution to prove a spacecraft could collect dust samples from an asteroid, but the agency was able to retrieve only a few micrograms of material.