May 30, 2011
The U.S. space agency will send an unmanned spacecraft to a nearby asteroid in 2016 and bring back a sample to provide clues about the formation of the solar system, NASA said on Wednesday.
The mission known as Osiris-Rex will be the first U.S. effort to bring back a sample from an asteroid.
Since asteroids formed from the gas and dust that made up the sun and planets, they are considered good indicators of conditions in the early universe and can provide clues about the formation of the solar system.
“This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division.
Osiris-Rex will travel for four years to reach the asteroid 1999 RQ36 in the year 2020. It will then spend six months mapping the surface of the asteroid, allowing scientists to determine the best spot for the craft’s robotic arm to dig a 57-gram sample.
The sample will be returned to Earth in 2023, NASA said. The mission is expected to cost some 800 million dollars. A Japanese mission brought back a sample from an asteroid last year.
The space agency also hopes to send astronauts to an asteroid and on Tuesday unveiled plans for a new deep space vehicle. That spacecraft now known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle is planned to first take astronauts to a distant asteroid before travelling to Mars.
This story originally appeared on The Hindu news site.
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