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Nasa Was Able to Touch an Asteroid

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Formerly an economics and humanities student at UCLA, Oe Kaori is now an intern for the United Nations.

NASA Made Contact with Bennu

It's not often a team gets to meet and touch an asteroid, but on Monday NASA's OSIRIS-REx team did just that.

Over the course of a month, the craft, which will eventually be attached to an asteroid and sample the thing, flew past Bennu, a small rocky world that's thought to be a little like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Researchers have been shooting for this moment ever since NASA selected the small space rock as its next target in August 2016. A year later, in September 2017, they were given the go-ahead to begin their process of reaching the rock, flying by it, and eventually photographing it.

"I think everyone on the team was anxious to get the mission on its way to Bennu," Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, said in a NASA release. "However, no one was more anxious than the team at Goddard Space Flight Center who have been working on this mission for more than two decades."

These NASA researchers aren't just planning for a fun tour of the asteroid in the next couple of years — they're doing it for their own sake.

Their goal is to find out more about what material, and materials, may have been ejected from Bennu to create the Earth's crust.

"We've finally put our camera and instruments on the right asteroid, and we're eager to start using them," Lauretta said.

Once the two years are up, the craft will spend another few months doing more low orbit maneuvers, and then the real work begins.

In July 2020, OSIRIS-REx will swoop in and attach itself to Bennu, then start taking samples and analyzing them for signs of life. The goal is to collect up to 2.1 pounds of material in the form of rocks, dirt, and rocks, so they can be brought back to Earth for further study.

They should have some idea in 2021 whether or not they found water.

"All of us on the team are really excited to see Bennu up close in the coming months, and to bring back samples in 2021 for study by a team of scientists from all over the world," Lauretta said.

"It's very fitting that we landed on this historic mission to Bennu — which is the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft — the same way we landed on the moon 48 years ago," he added.

NASA Plans for Other Future Missions

What is Nasa's next mission? NASA is developing what could be the most ambitious mission in its 50-year history. On Monday the space agency unveiled the details of the new Orion deep-space capsule, which will be designed to carry astronauts further into the Solar System than any spacecraft built by the agency so far.

The Orion programme, expected to cost $24.5bn (£18bn), will take humans farther than they have ever gone before. The space craft will launch atop the agency's Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful rocket ever built by Nasa. "This next chapter of human exploration will push the boundaries of technology and humanity's ability to live and work in space," Jim Bridenstine, the agency's administrator, said in a statement.

The space capsule is capable of carrying humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The design is based on the space shuttle's Orion used in manned missions in the mid-1990s. However, for the first time, the capsule will be built to withstand much higher levels of radiation. The capsule will also be outfitted with new high-definition cameras, advanced life support systems and advanced materials.

With the help of robots on the ground, the capsule will travel through space and return to Earth. Unlike previous US missions, Orion will have to rely on astronauts for several years. "The first flight flight for crewed Orion is a three-year mission that will take us deeper into space, past the Moon and towards Mars," said Curt Brown, Orion programme manager. "After launching on SLS, the astronauts will spend three months in space and three days on the surface of the Moon, before returning home." By 2021, astronauts will have completed two SLS missions, placing them in a stable orbit around the Moon.

The astronauts will spend about 20 days on the lunar surface, while orbiting the Moon several times to ensure safety. In total, the mission will last three years, with one manned flight to Mars – a one-way trip – that will take place in 2033. NASA intends to test the Orion capsule during flights in 2019 and 2021 before flying it for a crew on an unmanned mission in 2023. The space agency is conducting a series of unmanned missions in 2019, including an in-flight abort test of the capsule.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Oe Kaori

Comments

Oe Kaori (author) from Yokohama Japan on October 22, 2020:

Thank you

Ankita B on October 22, 2020:

Interesting and well written. Thank you for sharing.