Space Mission Going to Land on an Asteroid Because YOLO
For those of you who love space and astronomy as much as we do, there's some really exciting stuff happening over at NASA. After several years of theorizing, planning, and development, they've begun construction of a really interesting spacecraft called Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx. What is it? Oh, just a ship that will be able to travel to asteroids in our solar system, land on them, and take samples back to Earth for analysis, in one of our more ambitious unmanned missions ever. NBD.
The target they have in mind is Bennu, an asteroid that averages about half a kilometer wide and was discovered by the LINEAR Project in 1999, a collaboration of NASA, the US Air Force, and MIT to discover asteroids like it. Bennu is a particularly interesting asteroid because of its relatively high rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard scale, which is basically NASA's version of a "Holy crap this could hit us" list. Luckily, despite being one of the highest risk objects in space, Bennu only has a 0.037% chance of actually impacting Earth. Although this is significantly higher than anyone's individual chance of winning the lottery, it still amounts to a 1 in 2700 chance.
OSIRIS-REx is currently planned for launch in 2016, and it will return to Earth in 2023. Seven years may seem like a long time, but it's really an impressive leap forward in what humans are capable when it comes to learning more about what's out there in our solar system. According to the website for the project (asteroidmission.org), the key scientific objectives of OSIRIS-REx are: return and analyze a sample, create maps of the asteroid, document the sample site, measure the orbit deviation caused by non-gravitational forces, and compare observations at the asteroid to ground-based observations. In more simple English, they're going to take a piece, see what it's made of, and try to figure out how much the asteroid's path through space is effected by man made stuff landing on it, and figure out how accurate we actually were at guessing it's path from here.
OSIRIS-REx is unlikely to come home with a three-eyed alien kitty cat, but it's still really exciting to see humanity learning more and more about the universe every day.
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