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NASA Asteroid to Be Divided Among Mission Partners: Who Takes the Rock Home?

Sep 01, 2016 04:07 AM EDT

The first ever asteroid capture mission by NASA is scheduled for launch on Sept. 8. NASA hopes to take samples from asteroid Bennu and bring back fresh samples to Earth. The big question now is: who gets to take home samples of the rock?

OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) will officially launch this month. It would bring back asteroid dust from Bennu back to Earth, which could reveal insights about the building block of the solar system.

Asteroid Bennu is a "B-type" asteroid which is black and dense as coal. OSIRIS-REx will reach the asteroid by August 2018, where it would hover 240 meters above its surface. In addition to tracing out the contours of the asteroid, the spacecraft would identify around 12 sites where potential samples may be taken.

OSIRIS-REx hopes to harvest 60 to 300 grams of asteroid Bennu's dust. It won't be much, but NASA scientists and researchers are "masters at working with practically nothing," as stated by Hap McSween, a planetary scientist at the University of Tennessee.

Once the spacecraft gathers the dust needed, the next question now is who gets to keep the samples? While OSIRIS-REx's arrival is slated seven years from now, exactly on Sept. 24, 2023, NASA has already decided who gets the samples from the asteroid. The space agency is reportedly planning to divide the samples to its partners across the world.

According to a press release, for the first six months on Earth, the samples from asteroid Bennu will be kept at Johnson Space Center's Astromaterials Acquisition and Curation Office in Houston. This is also where NASA's meteorite collection as well as the Apollo moon rocks are kept.

Once cataloguing the asteroid samples have been done, scientists from NASA will divide them among their mission partners. A quarter of the sample will be given to OSIRIS-REx's science team. The remaining 5 percent will be handed over to NASA's base located in White Sands. The Canadian space agency will receive 4 percent, whereas the Japanese space agency will get 0.5 percent.

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