You know what I love about NASA? The fact that when they say, “Hey, we should go to an asteroid and collect a sample of it to analyze in the hopes of better understanding our universe” that they mean it.
In this case, researchers are hoping to understand some of life’s more profound mysteries by way of a very special (and dramatically named) mission.
The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer – or OSIRIS-REx – mission will be the first of its kind to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. What some might call unprecedented.
And okay yes, I know that this isn’t the first time we’ve gone mining for answers from other celestial bodies. The Stardust mission did this in 2006 when it brought back samples from a comet, but that was a small sample from a comet that was super-heated when it hit the collider.
But this is something much different. This is something that could unlock the secrets of life itself.
This near-Earth asteroid, affectionately referred to as asteroid (101955) 1999RQ36 (must be a family name) will conduct a 500 day encounter that will create maps and studies of the asteroid, collect up to 2kg of volatile-rich regolith, which is essentially the asteroid’s sugar coating.
Asteroids are leftovers formed from the cloud of gas and dust – the solar nebula – that collapsed to form our Sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. As such, they contain the original material from the solar nebula, which can tell us about the conditions of our solar system’s origins.
OSIRIS-REx is going on a mission to collect samples about our solar system’s birth, basically.