ASU, U of A and NASA's billion-dollar spacecraft readies for launch

PHOENIX – “It brings tears to your eyes, honestly it does,” Heather Enos, project OSIRIS-REx’s second-in-command said on the phone from Florida.She was on the ground with a couple dozen members of her team as the spacecraft made the trek to its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.

“I have said, ‘OK, we’re onto the next big step in this significant milestone,'” Enos said.

This is the largest investment NASA has made in the space programs at Arizona’s universities. The price tag is nearly $1 billion over the next 14 years.

ASU professor Jim Bell didn’t work on this project, but as a planetary scientist, he’s sent many things into space and knows what the team is feeling on the eve of the launch.

“Kind of [a] strange mix of wanting to sing and dance and wanting to be happy, and then wanting to throw up at the same time,” Bell said.

Members of the Space-X launch team likely felt similar emotions last week when it lost a rocket. Enos said that moment flashed through her mind as the Atlas V rocket carrying OSIRIS-REx got into position.

“It also is any opportunity for us to be humble and remember that this is a difficult business,” Enos said.

But those kinds of events are the exception rather than the rule.

“That level of engineering is so incredibly high and robust,” Bell said. “So much work has taken place for backup systems and redundancy that it almost always works.  And when they work, they give us spectacular science results.”

ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is holding a watch party for the launch of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Sept. 8, 2016 beginning at 3:30 p.m.

Copyright 2016 KPNX