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NASA to Map Surface of an Asteroid, Collect Samples

Jul 27, 2016 02:42 AM EDT
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Asteroids might answer vital questions regarding the origin of life in the universe. NASA is launching a spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid to do a comprehensive surface mapping and to collect samples that will be taken back to Earth.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltec via Getty Images)

NASA is sending a spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid to map its surface and collect samples to be taken back to Earth.

In September this year, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx to an asteroid. The spacecraft will use its robotic arm to "pluck" samples from its surface. Samples retrieved from this mission are important in further understanding the formation and evolution of the Solar System and the origin of life in the Universe. If successful, the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission to retrieve asteroid samples and bring it back to Earth will be the first of its kind, according to NASA.

OSIRIS-REx will be launched on Sept. 8 aboard the Atlas V rocket, according to Daily Mail. For the mission, the OSIRIS-REx will target an asteroid called Bennu. This calculated maneuver will require the spacecraft to approach the asteroid at a close distance. But before the retrieval of samples, the spacecraft will spend some time mapping the surface of the asteroid; the comprehensive surface mapping is the first stretch of its mission. The spacecraft is fitted with innovative equipment to perform the comprehensive surface mapping, including the OVIRS.

"OVIRS is key to our search for organics on Bennu," principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission Lauretta said in a statement. "In particular, we will rely on it to find the areas of Bennu rich in organic molecules to identify possible sample sites of high science value, as well as the asteroid's general composition," Lauretta added.

Command center from Earth will pinpoint a location to get a sample that will be collected by the spacecraft's robotic arms by stretching a part of it and moving even closer to the asteroid. The samples collected will be taken back to Earth in 2023.

It is important to map the asteroid and collect samples because the asteroids are less likely to be altered over time thus it is expected to have preserved signs of the solar system's infancy and it might also be able to explain the origin of life due to its carbon content, a key element in organic molecules.


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