Despite the closure of the space shuttle program the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) continues their search for life in other parts of the solar system with the launch of the Atlas 5 rocket and its cargo last week.
On Friday Sept. 8 NASA launched the Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) probe atop an Atlas five (Atlas-V?) rocket as part of their Atlantis program. And, part of a seven-year mission to search for signs of life, and the building blocks of our planet on the Asteroid Bennu.
“What they are looking for is precursors to life. Sort of organic molecules that could get to be part of microbe or cell formation at the very earliest stages of life. It would be mostly interesting organic compounds that formed early in the solar system that could have seeded the earth. That’s what they’re looking for in the area of life,” New College Physics and Astronomy Professor George Ruppeiner explained.
“Asteroids are sort of idea for finding old material that formed roughly where the earth’s orbit is or where mars’ orbit is. So if they sample the material on this asteroid they’ll get some idea of what the solar system formed from long long ago,” Ruppeiner continued.
NASA expects that the Asteroid will swing by the earth on Sept. 22, 2017 and use Earth’s gravitational pull as a sort of slingshot towards its destination. It should reach the asteroid Bennu on August 2018 where it will stay for three years hovering above the surface and collecting data about the asteroid. It will also help determine Bennu’s trajectory and make sure it will not collide with the earth in the late 22century between 2175 and 2199.
The probe is predicted to take a sample from Bennu in July 2022, after much practice, and return to earth in September 2023.