Hitch a Ride on the Next Mission to an Asteroid

by Nancy Atkinson on January 15, 2014

This is an artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. Credit:  NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. Credit:
NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney

NASA and the Planetary Society are teaming up to give everyone the opportunity tag along on the next mission to an asteroid … well, your name can go along on the trip, anyway! You can submit your name to be added on to a microchip that will be aboard the Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, which will launch to the asteroid Bennu in 2016 and arrive in 2018.

“We’re thrilled to be able to share the OSIRIS-REx adventure with people across the Earth, to Bennu and back,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission from the University of Arizona in Tucson. “It’s a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission early and join us as we prepare for launch.”

The spacecraft will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter)-wide asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a sample of Bennu’s surface and return it to Earth in 2023 in a sample return capsule.

The “Messages to Bennu!” microchip will travel to the asteroid on the spacecraft, and once the sample return capsule deploys, the spacecraft will be placed into a long-term solar orbit around the Sun, along with the microchip and every name on it.

You can submit your name at this website. The deadline is September 30, 2014.

After you submit your name, you can download and print a certificate.

“You’ll be part of humankind’s exploration of the solar system — How cool is that?” said Bill Nye, chief executive officer of The Planetary Society.

Participants who “follow” or “like” the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth. Facebook fans also will be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.

The OSIRIS-REx mission goal is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth. It will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material.

Find out more about the mission here and here.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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