OSIRIS-REx asteroid-bound spacecraft arrives at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

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A spacecraft that scientists hope could obtain samples from asteroids is one step closer to its journey after arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will undergo final preparations before its expected launch in September 2016.

The craft, which will be used for the mission, has a rather long name: the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer. To avoid such a mouthful, it is also known as the OSIRIS-REx, and will be the first mission carried out by the US to try and obtain samples from an asteroid and bring them back to earth. 

The spacecraft was transported from Lockeed Martin in Colorado aboard a US Air Force C-17 plane. It is now undergoing testing and cleaning at the space center to get it ready for its mission. 

“It’s a great adventure to explore an unknown world. We are going to reach out and touch it, and we are going to bring treasure back to Earth,” said Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, according to Space Flight Now. 

The OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to be launched on board a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on September 8. It will head towards the Bennu asteroid in order to collect samples. The craft will spend around six months carefully mapping the asteroid’s surface and the team at mission control will then pick a spot where the module’s arm will take a sample. The whole journey will take around seven years to complete. 

The Bennu asteroid is around the size of six football fields. Scientists believe that little has altered on the asteroid and therefore it will give them an idea of what life was like during the infancy of the solar system.  

“The asteroids record the earliest stages of the solar system, so it really is time capsule from the very dawn in the history of our solar system,” Lauretta said, Space Flight Now reported. 

“My dream is that we find something that is unique, that is not represented in our meteorite collection, that is really organically-rich material on the surface of this asteroid that holds all kinds of scientific treasures about the origin of life and organic molecular evolution in the solar system.” 

The asteroid is also likely to be rich in carbon, which is a key element need for life forms. The scientists will also look to see if there are any forms of life on Bennu. 

The asteroid has also been identified as a threat to Earth in the future, as it could collide with our planet, according to Humberto Campins from the University of Florida, who spoke to the Orlando Sentinel.

“Of those [asteroids] that could threaten Earth in the future this one could,” said Campins. 

Japan has already sent a probe into space in order to take samples from an asteroid. The Hayabusa craft managed to return more than 1,500 grains of dustform from the asteroid 25143 Itokawa when it landed in the Australian desert in 2010 following its space mission. A second probe Haybusa-2 is currently in space and is set to land on an asteroid in 2018 in order to collect more samples.