NASA launches rocket to study asteroid
NASA has launched its first ever mission to reach and study an asteroid in what the US space agency called a “huge milestone” in working to understand the origins of the solar system.
“NASA did it again!” Jim Green, Planetary Science Division director at NASA, said at a post-launch briefing.
“Tonight is a night for celebration,” said Ellen Stofan, NASA chief scientist. “We are on our way to an asteroid.”
Called OSIRIS-REx, the spacecraft is headed towards the asteroid Bennu. The craft is about 20 feet (6 meters) long with its solar arrays deployed. It’s 8 feet (2.43 meters) wide, and its height is about 10 feet (3.15 meters).
OSIRIS-REx will take a sample of the asteroid and — in a US space first — bring the sample back to Earth.
OSIRIS-REx will reach the asteroid in 2018. Scientists believe asteroids like Bennu may have been a source of water and organic molecules for planets at the formation of the solar system more than 4.5 million years ago.