A cool picture just popped up on NASA’s Instagram yesterday about the so-called OSIRIS-REx spacecraft visiting an asteroid. As usual, the name is an abbreviation, standing for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer. The mission is targeting the asteroid 101955 Bennu (also known as 1999 RQ36), an Apollo asteroid with a mean diameter of approximately 493 meters. The goal is to study and return a sample of the asteroid named by a 9-year-old.
The spacecraft is planned for launch in September 2016, will travel for about two years untill it reaches the asteroid. It will roam Bennu’s surface for more than two years, mapping about 4.8 kilometres and gathering about 60 grams to 2 kilograms of samples. After the trip is finished, a capsule containing the collected items will be returned to Earth, landing at the Utah Test and Training Range in 2023.
And the coolest thing: NASA recently announced that anyone can send their name to Bennu. The Messages to Bennu! microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard the spacecraft, and will stay there after the capsule is launched back to Earth. Visit this page you wish to participate, the deadline is the end of this september. If you like the mission on Facebook, you’ll receive updates and notifications on just where your name is from launch in 2016 to return to Earth in 2023.
“We’re thrilled to be able to share the OSIRIS-REx adventure with people across the Earth, to Bennu and back,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission from the University of Arizona in Tucson. “It’s a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission early and join us as we prepare for launch.”
Visit the official site for more information.