After the joyous triumph and terror of landing
on Mars this past week, you might think
has earned a break.
But no -- there's a lot of space out there and someone has to make more history exploring it.
Just like the InSight landing, NASA will provide a livestream of its very first asteroid sample return mission to 101955 Bennu, because it's 2018 and we all need to see NASA scientists exchange jubilant handshakes at the site of a successful mission.
NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will make contact with Bennu right on 12 p.m. EST., Dec. 3, and NASA suggests heading straight to its live site to follow along. Should you prefer social media to do your space watching, Facebook also has you covered, as does YouTube.
The journey for the asteroid-chasing OSIRIS-REx began way back in September 2016 and three years later it's finally close enough to tag the space rock. The spacecraft is equipped with five instruments and will survey the asteroid for near on a year, before selecting a site to retrieve a sample. OSIRIS-REx won't touch down on the asteroid, like Japan's Hayabusa 2 did earlier this year, instead opting to drop a leaf blower-type instrument onto the surface to kick up dust particles into the craft's robotic arm. Gnarly.
On Dec. 3, OSIRIS-REx will begin operations around the asteroid, passing over its north pole, south pole and equator from just 4.3 miles away. This will allow the spacecraft to determine its mass, how fast it's spinning and generate a model of the asteroid.
The $800 million mission won't be complete, however, until 2023 when OSIRIS-REx is expected to return to Earth with Bennu's dust on board. By taking a layer of Bennu's rocky skin, astronomers may potentially discover how life on Earth began, the types of compounds present in Bennu and the formation of our own solar system.
There's also the fact that Bennu has a (very miniscule) chance of colliding with the Earth sometime after 2175 -- so it'd be nice to prepare for that, thank you.
Should OSIRIS-REx fulfill its goals, it will be cause for another huge livestream celebration, but by that point we might all have retinal implants that allow us to be at NASA, in augmented reality, so we can digitally handshake-dance with our favourite astronomers as if we were really there.
Go well, space robot.
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