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NASA spacecraft on way to asteroid to bring back samples

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Round trip, the spacecraft will travel more than 6 billion kilometers by the mission’s end in 2023.

The first NASA explorer of its kind has taken off on a seven-year quest, chasing after a big, black, unexplored asteroid to gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth.

These bite-size bits of ancient space rock from asteroid Bennu could hold clues to the origin of life, not just on our planet but potentially elsewhere in the solar system. Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter that looks something like a bird with its solar wings. The spacecraft took flight atop an Atlas V rocket.

Victory was declared after the launch late on Thursday; launch controllers shook hands and embraced as the spacecraft shot out of Earth’s orbit, bound for Bennu.

“Tonight is a night for celebration. We are on our way to an asteroid,” said NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan. “We got everything just exactly perfect,” added Osiris-Rex chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. It will take two years for Osiris-Rex to reach Bennu, which is circling the sun in a slightly wider orbit than Earth’s. The boxy spacecraft will actually go into orbit around the asteroid, seeking out the best spot before going in for a quick bite.

Osiris-Rex will hover like a hummingbird over Bennu, according to Mr. Lauretta, as the spacecraft’s three-metre mechanical arm touches down on the surface for three to five seconds. Thrusters will shoot out nitrogen gas to stir up the surface, and the loose particles will be sucked up into the device.

Round trip, the spacecraft will travel more than 6 billion kilometers by the mission’s end in 2023.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 1:11:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/NASA-spacecraft-on-way-to-asteroid-to-bring-back-samples/article14630866.ece

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