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NASA Asteroid Mission Inspired by a Plastic Solo Cup

Aug 23, 2016 03:08 AM EDT

The first robotic mission planned by NASA, which will be collecting a piece of asteroid Bennu, was surprisingly inspired by an ordinary object. Lockheed Martin's engineer claims a plastic Solo cup paved the way for the creation of the NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe.

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, costs $800 million. The probe will be taking samples from the asteroid Bennu. How exactly? This reverse vacuum principle was inspired by a dirt-filled Solo cup.

"Over the past 10 years, it has come a long way from a Solo cup in the driveway to what you see now," stated Rich Kuhns in a press statement, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the NASA mission.

Weighing 4,650 pounds, the spacecraft will be launched this September and is approximated to reach asteroid Bennu by 2018. The probe will then collect around 4 pounds of the asteroid and return to earth by 2023.

"The launch of OSIRIS-REx is the beginning a seven-year journey to return pristine samples from asteroid Bennu," statted Dr. Dante Lauretta, mission lead investigator and a professor at the University of Arizona. "The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure."

So why exactly was asteroid Bennu targeted for this mission? Out of the 500,000 asteroids in the solar system, Bennu was of the perfect size claimed NASA. In addition, it contained carbon-rich dust present almost billions of years past. The asteroid is said to be taller than Eiffel Tower, around 500 meters in diameter. Bennu passes by the Earth every six years. It also orbits the sun at the same distance as planet earth, which makes it the best asteroid for the mission.

Yet, OSIRIS is not the only NASA asteroid mission. Reportedly, the space agency will be launching a probe by 2021, which will pull an asteroid close to the moon of which astronauts will be studying. However, the plans of pulling an asteroid in close proximity to the moon have been criticized by scientists. Aside from NASA, other private companies plan on sending their own probes to nearby asteroids.

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