On Wednesday May 15 NASA was given approval to use a spacecraft to meet up with an asteroid and return with a sample to Earth. The approval precedes NASA's ultimate goal of snagging an asteroid and drawing it closer to our planet.
The spacecraft, called the Origins-Spectral Integration Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), will meet with the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return with a sample in 2023.
"This means NASA believes we have an executable plan to return a sample from Bennu," Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, said. "It now falls on the project and its development team members to execute that plan."
According to NASA, Bennu could hold clues regarding the solar system's origin. At least two ounces (60 grams) of surface material is expected to be brought back. The spacecraft will also map the surface and measure non-gravitational forces.
"The entire OSIRIS-REx team has worked very hard to get to this point," Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said. "We have a long way to go before we arrive at Bennu, but I have every confidence when we do, we will have built a supremely capable system to return a sample of this primitive asteroid."
The asteroid Bennu was discovered on September 11, 1999. Its name was chosen after a naming contest held by NASA, which picked a third grader's selection. Bennu was an Egyptian god.
The narrated video below provides an overview of the mission.