UArizona scientist plays role in ongoing mission to bring asteroid sample back to Earth

During the fall, the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx will be the first NASA spacecraft to collect a sample of an asteroid millions of miles away, and return it back to Earth for further study.

FOX 10 reported on the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission in 2017. The spacecraft was launched in 2016 for a journey to 101955 Bennu, a Near-Earth Asteroid that is over 170 million miles away from Earth, in order to bring a piece of an asteroid.

Once it reaches the asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will map and study the surface. Afterwards, it will carefully approach the surface to pluck off a sample.

"We will then carefully stow the sample in our sample return capsule and return to Utah in September 2023," said Heather Enos, in 2017.

UArizona professor plays big role in the mission

"The rehearsal that we did last week gave us a lot of confidence that we are ready to go do this," said Dr. Dante Lauretta with the University of Arizona.

For Dr. Lauretta, the mission has been long in the making.

"I started working on this mission program in 2004, so I’m pass 16 years on this program right now. I can tell you I did not have this beard when we got started," said Dr. Lauretta.

Dr. Lauretta talked about what 101955 Bennu was selected.

“We were interested in its chemistry. We really wanted something that was rich in water and rich in carbon because that’s the science questions that we’re asking here," said Dr. Lauretta. "We are trying to understand why life formed on planet Earth, and by understanding that, how likely is life to be present elsewhere in our solar system."

Since OSIRIS-REx arrived at the asteroid, it has been in orbit and mapping out its surface. 

"In April and now, just a week ago in August, we performed two rehearsals about trying to get the spacecraft down to touch the surface of the asteroid and collect that material," said Dr. Lauretta.

Once the sample is collected, Dr. Lauretta and his team will have to wait a couple of years to test it.

"For me, that's when the real scientific payday comes," said Dr. Lauretta. "I’ve been waiting. At that point, it will be almost 20 years of my career to get those materials into our laboratories, and we can study them in very way you can imagine."