NASA's Osiris-REx Will Take the First-Ever Samples from an Asteroid Starting Next Year

Thursday, 22 October 2015 - 3:05PM
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Astrobiology
Thursday, 22 October 2015 - 3:05PM
NASA's Osiris-REx Will Take the First-Ever Samples from an Asteroid Starting Next Year
Aerospace and securities company Lockheed Martin has just finished building Osiris-REx, a spacecraft that is set to launch next year in order to take the first-ever asteroid samples, possibly shedding light on the origin of humanity in the process.



Osiris-REx is set to launch in a NASA mission in 2016, and will then rendezvous with the asteroid 1999 RQ36 (now called Bennu), which is in near-Earth orbit, or within 121 million miles of our planet. The probe will likely arrive at the asteroid in 2019, at which time it will take at least a 60-gram sample from the space object, returning to Earth with the samples in approximately 2023.

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"The samples will be the first for a U.S. mission and may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and likely organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth," said Lockheed Martin.
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Asteroids are thought to have formed long before the first planets in our solar system, which makes them a sort of "time capsule" for the materials present in the early formation of our solar system. As a result, the samples may shed light on the plausibility of the panspermia theory, which hypothesizes that asteroids "seeded" life on Earth by colliding with planets and transferring organic molecules. Asteroids are known to be rich with carbon-based materials, and there's a chance that an asteroid falling to Earth provided the first elements of life and indirectly led to the advent of life, and therefore human beings, on this planet.

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"The asteroid, little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system's infancy," NASA said in their mission description. "The asteroid also is likely rich in carbon, a key element in the organic molecules necessary for life. Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples, indicating some of life's ingredients can be created in space; scientists want to see if they also are present on [Bennu]."
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