NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifts off to sample asteroid Bennu

“Tonight is a night for celebration”, said Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist. “We are on our way to an asteroid”.

NASA reports that its first ever asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, “beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system”.

In the meantime, Dr. Daly said he’s looking forward to something even more exciting than seeing OSIRIS-REx lift off: the first close-ups of Bennu.

“By going up and touching and interacting with a small asteroid – not much bigger than the global space station – we’re starting the process”, the scientist said. “Sample return of material from out in our solar system is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding types of space science missions, and our team is delighted to help NASA and the OSIRIS-REx team begin the flight to Bennu”. Once in space, the spacecraft will set its sights on 101955 Bennu, a 1,614-foot-wide space rock in the collection of near-Earth asteroids known as the Apollo group.

Scientists will select 12 regions on the asteroid for further study and then select the one most likely to support an extended mechanical arm and a small pod, which will spend five seconds on the surface to collect dust and material in July 2020.

Asteroid 2016 RB1 belongs to a group of space rocks called Atens. If the craft can safely extract and return at least 2 ounces of the loose material sitting on the bedrock of the carbonaceous asteroid, it will be considered a success.

“We want to learn where we come from, where life actually started, thanks to asteroids“, Villanueva said.

Participants are now completing the US -based segment of the program hosted by Lockheed Martin, which immerses participants in the USA space industry. A parachute will guide the capsule to the ground at the Utah Test and Training Range in Tooele County.

Bennu swings by Earth every six years, and 150 years from now, could hit us. If it does, it’s big enough to do some damage.

Washington: US space agency NASA on Thursday launched the nation’s first mission that will visit an asteroid and bring precious samples back to Earth.

The approximately $800 million mission (not including launch) is the third of NASA’s New Frontiers series of Principal Investigator (PI)-led medium-size robotic planetary exploration missions.

Meaning there could be lots of unknown threats out there.

Osiris-Rex is the latest in a series of missions to asteroids that began with the 1991 flyby of asteroid Gaspra by NASA’s Jupiter-bound Galileo spacecraft.

NASA has sampled a comet before, and the Japanese space agency JAXA successfully collected dust from an asteroid in 2005. It’s still there. But it didn’t send back any samples.

Bennu’s orbital path will keep OSIRIS-REx closer to home.

It won’t blow up Bennu, and it won’t save the Earth from any other menacing space rocks.

Sample-Return missions are the future of space exploration, believes United Kingdom mission scientist Ian Franchi. It took several years to develop and build.

But we would have to know years in advance that a unsafe rock is coming before we could do anything about it.

“We will make discoveries on this mission that we have not anticipated”.