In addition to protecting the Earth from killer rocks from space, the NASA OSIRIS-REx’s other mission is to find clues about the origins of life on our planet, and the Solar System.
The 7-year mission started last week, September 10, when the Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41, as shown in the featured image. The spacecraft is the first ever space mission of NASA to take samples from an asteroid.
Its target is the near-Earth object named Bennu, which measures about five-hundred meters across. It is expected to zoom between the Earth and the Moon in the year 2035. Based on the current data, Bennu won’t hit Earth. However, a phenomenon called Yarkovsky effect could affect the object’s trajectory and put it in a path towards Earth at the end of the 21st century.
In a pre-launch conference, lead researcher Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona explained that OSIRIS-REx is going to Bennu because it is a “time capsule” from the earliest Solar System formation, back when the planets, including Earth, was spread across as dust grains in a swirling cloud around the growing protostar (which we now call the Sun).
If all goes as planned, part of the spacecraft containing samples from the asteroid will return to Earth on September 24, 2023. It will parachute down and land at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.
Bennu will ‘speak clearly’ with Earth
OSIRIS-REx will not only collect samples from Bennu, but also map its surface. It will provide plenty of information about the Earth’s past, and the Solar System as a whole.
It will take two years for the OSIRIS-REx to reach the asteroid and begin mapping it. Toward the end of its time at the asteroid, the spacecraft will steer in close enough to the primitive rocket to collect up to four pounds of soil and material from its surface. With the samples, scientists on the ground can study Bennu and find out what secrets of the Solar System’s creation the asteroid could reveal.