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NASA preparing its own mission to an asteroid

NASA asteroid mission

Although the European Space Agency is grabbing all the headlines with its historic soft landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, NASA has a fairly epic mission of its own planned. The OSIRIS-REx mission is set to take a sample from an asteroid that was around during the formation of the solar system, then return to Earth.

To highlight that, NASA has released a new animated video detailing the asteroid’s impressive journey.

The mission is scheduled to launch September 2016. It will then rendezvous with asteroid 101955 Bennu, where the spacecraft will begin to map the rock’s surface over the course of 505 days at a distance of 3.1 miles. Once the mapping is complete, OSIRIS will beam the data back to NASA, and a target site will be chosen. The spacecraft will then extend a robotic arm and collect a sample, without landing. It will then head back to Earth, where it is expected to land in Utah at some point in 2023.

NASA specifically chose Bennu because of its origins from the beginning of the solar system, and similarity to other rocks that crashed into the Earth in its early days. Bennu also has reserves of pristine carbonaceous material, an element found in organic molecules that scientists believe may have contributed to the creation of life on Earth. The sample will be a mere 60 grams, but it could advance the field of research significantly.

A primary goal for the ESA’s mission to Comet 67P was also to look for organic material. One of the last signals sent from Philae before the battery died was that it was successful in this aspect. The ESA has yet to release the exact nature of the organic molecule or how complex it is, but it’s still a success.

“We are going to Bennu because we want to know what it has witnessed over the course of its evolution,” Edward Beshore of the University of Arizona, Deputy Principal Investigator of the mission said. “Bennu’s experiences will tell us more about where our solar system came from and how it evolved. Like the detectives in a crime show episode, we’ll examine bits of evidence from Bennu to understand more completely the story of the solar system, which is ultimately the story of our origin.”

The OSIRIS-REx launch will be the third and final mission of the New Frontiers Program. The first was the New Horizons mission, which launched in 2006. Its mission took it by Jupiter, and it will pass Pluto in July 2015. From there it will continue on to the Kuiper-belt.

The second mission, Juno, launched in 2011 headed for Jupiter. It will arrive and orbit the gas giant in July 2016.

For more details on OSIRIS-REx and the asteroid Bennu, check out the video below. It even has a 1440p HD option, as well as a 4K 2160p option.

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