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Lift-off: NASA's Asteroid-Hunting Spacecraft OSIRIS-REx Launched to Space

Sep 09, 2016 04:00 AM EDT

NASA successfully blasted off its asteroid-hunting spacecraft on Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force launchpad in Florida. OSIRIS-REx will intercept the orbit of near-Earth asteroid Bennu to map its surface and collect "high value" samples to bring back to Earth.

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is an innovative machine designed to observe and map an asteroid. Part of its mission is to perform a comprehensive surface mapping of Bennu that will provide a significant amount of data for scientists.

The lift-off took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force base in Florida, the same launch pad where a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on Sept. 9. If all goes well, the spacecraft will collect samples from asteroid Bennu using its robotic arms and bring them back to Earth in 2023. NASA launched its campaign #ToBennuAndBack to highlight this one-of-a-kind mission of OSIRIS-REx, collecting space rock samples of non-Earth origin.

Admittedly, the sample collection is the most important part of OSIRIS-REx mission and it is highly anticipated by scientists involved in the project. "I'm really excited. I can't wait to get to the asteroid," OSIRIS-REx scientist Jeffrey Grossman said in an interview with CNN. "We're going to learn so much about the solar system from studying this asteroid and getting a sample back," Grossman added.

The samples to be collected by the spacecraft and the instruments on-board will explain the organic matter on the surface of asteroid Bennu. "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," principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission, Lauretta, said in a statement.

Asteroids are believed to hold remnants of the early Solar System because these bodies rarely change through the years. But aside from sample collection, NASA is also depending on OSIRIS-REx to improve prediction and calculation of asteroid flybys towards the planet. Bennu is listed as one of the potentially hazardous asteroids that may impact the Earth in the coming years.

With the data collected by OSIRIS-REx, scientists hope to improve man's understanding of asteroid behaviors and the early formation of the Solar System.

 Chasing Bennu: Why NASA Chose This Asteroid for OSIRIS-REx Mission
 SpaceX Failed Launch Will Not Affect Asteroid Mission, According to NASA
 An Undiscovered Asteroid Brushed Closely to Earth


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