INTERVIEW: NASA sending satellite to collect sample from asteroid and return to earth


NASA's first-ever mission to collect an asteroid sample will get a boost from Earth next weekend. On Friday, Sept. 22, Earth's gravity will slingshot OSIRIS-REx toward its target, a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu. Scientists believe asteroids like Bennu may have seeded Earth with the organic compounds that made life possible. OSIRIS-REx — the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer — is a robotic mission that will map this asteroid and then collect a sample that it will send home to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx launched last year, but because Bennu's orbit is tilted six degrees in comparison to Earth's, the spacecraft needs a boost before it can get to the asteroid. Earth's game-day assist on Sept. 22 will carefully reposition it to reach Bennu's path in 2018. One of the best ways to change the trajectory of a spacecraft (without carrying extra fuel) is by using the gravity of a planet or large moon to catapult it, and that’s exactly how our home planet will help OSIRIS-REx match the asteroid's path and speed.

Join NASA scientists just hours before Earth slingshots OSIRIS-REx toward asteroid Bennu – to find out why this maneuver is critical to the mission’s success, and how OSIRIS-REx could uncover the materials and processes that enabled life on Earth.

When it reaches Bennu next year, OSIRIS-REx will map the asteroid in exquisite detail, study its orbit and interior, and collect samples that will arrive at Earth in 2023. There are more than half a million known asteroids in our solar system, but Bennu is an ideal candidate for in-depth study because of its size, composition and proximity to Earth. Bennu is an artifact of the ancient solar system, a silent witness to the titanic events in our solar system’s 4.6 billion-year history.