by Dr. Ken Kremer
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Bound for asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic explorer began a trailblazing 7 year round trip sampling sortie on Sept. 8 in search of the origin of life with a spectacular sky show – thrilling spectators, including myself, ringing the Florida Space Coast.
Hordes of space enthusiasts from all across the globe descended on the Kennedy Space Center region to witness a once in a lifetime liftoff to the carbon rich asteroid – which could potentially bring back samples infused with the organic chemicals like amino acids that are the building blocks of life as we know it.
NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft departed Earth atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Everything went exactly according to plan for the daring mission bolding seeking to gather rocks and soil from Bennu – using an ingenious robotic arm named TAGSAM – and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments. The space rock measures about the size of a small mountain at about a third of a mile in diameter.
“We got everything just exactly perfect,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. “We hit all our milestone within seconds of predicts.
The ULA Atlas V rocket integrated with OSIRIS-Rex on top thundered off the Cape’s pad 41 and shot skyward straight up along an equatorial path into Florida’s sun drenched skies.
From every vantage point the rocket and its ever expanding vapor trail were visible for some 4 or 5 minutes or more. From my location on the roof of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the rocket finally arched over nearly straight above us and the sun produced a magnificent thin and nearly straight shadow of the vapor trail on the ground running out to the Atlantic Ocean towards Africa.
OSIRIS-REx separated as planned from the Atlas V rockets second stage to fly free at 8:04 p.m. on Sept. 8 – 55 minutes after launch. The pair of solar arrays deployed as planned to provide the probes life giving power. The spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed.“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told me in a prelaunch interview in the KSC cleanroom with the spacecraft as the probe was undergoing final preparations for shipment to the launch pad.
“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation. It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”
After a two year flight through space, including an Earth swing by for a gravity assisted speed boost in 2017, OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in Fall 2018 to begin about 2 years of study in orbit to determine the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid in extremely high resolution.
While orbiting Bennu in 2018 it will move in close to explore the asteroid for about two years with its suite of science instruments, scanning in visible and infrared light. After a thorough site selection, it will move carefully towards the surface and extend the 11 foot long. TAGSAM will snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface over just 3 to 5 seconds.
Watch my up close videos captured directly at the pad with the sights and sounds of the fury of launch. https://youtu.be/04mLUFBBR7I
For complete details about ULA’s Orbital ATK Atlas/Cygnus launch see my recent articles and photos at Universe Today:
Astronomy Outreach by Dr. Ken Kremer
Nov 2-4: “GOES-R launch and Curiosity on Mars.” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL
Please contact Ken for more info, science outreach presentations and his space photos. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.kenkremer.com http://www.universetoday.com/author/ken-kremer/ https://www.facebook.com/kremerken1