NASA to launch its 1st asteroid sample-return mission

NASA to launch its 1st asteroid sample-return mission

NASA

Asteroids have often made memorable appearances in science fiction movies. NASA, however, plans a real mission to an asteroid next month.

  • NASA mission is unprecedented
  • Targeted asteroid named ‘Bennu’
  • Results will help scientists investigate planetary origins

Preparations are underway for the first asteroid sample return mission, set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during a launch window that starts at 7 a.m. on Sept. 8.  

According to a NASA release, “the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring a sample back to Earth for intensive study.”

“It’s a mission of exploration,” said Dante Lauretta, Professor of Planetary Science at the University of Arizona and project manager on the OSIRIS-REx team. “We are going to bring those materials back. The reason we want that here on Earth is so we can have the best instruments to bring those secrets back, and it really is a scientific treasure that will go on for generations.”

NASA scientists calculate that OSIRIS-REx will arrive at its target in 2018.

Once there, instruments aboard OSIRIS-REx will conduct an exhaustive survey of Bennu’s surface, then return to Earth with samples for additional study. The mission is slated to last seven years.

While the mission itself represents a breakthrough for NASA, for the scientists themselves who have worked on OSIRIS-REx since 2005, the moment is bittersweet.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this come to life,” said Lauretta. “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but it’s going off on a journey. It’s like a treasure hunter going out into the unknown, and it’s going to help us reveal those secrets about the early solar system.”

The financial cost of the OSIRIS-REx project is estimated at around $480 million. Project leaders believe, however, that by mission’s end the true cost will come in under that estimate.

Scientists hope to learn more about how planets formed and how life began from data obtained by OSIRIS-REx. For more information about the mission, visit nasa.gov/osiris-rex.

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