How did our early solar system form? What are the origins of life? How likely are we to get hit by a dangerous asteroid? A daring NASA mission called OSIRIS-REx hopes to find the answers to these big questions at an asteroid named Bennu. This week, the spacecraft arrives at its destination. To learn more, Miles sits down with members of the OSIRIS-REx team on this episode of Miles To Go.
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Miles O’Brien: Hello and welcome to another edition of Miles To Go, I’m Miles O’Brien.
This week, after more than two years of cruising through the void, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu.
OSIRIS-REx, now this is a tortured acronym. It stands for–ready?–Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Now, I know NASA loves its acronyms, but this one may be taking it one step too far.
It is, like its acronym, a complicated mission. It seeks to answer some fundamental questions about the formation of the solar system, the origins of life as we know it, and also there’s this: in the next couple hundred years, Bennu has a chance of painting a bullseye on our planet. Now, it’s about the size of the Empire State Building, so it wouldn’t send us the way of the dinosaurs, but it sure would cause massive destruction. So, if it in fact is headed our way, we want to know about that, for sure.
As important as that is–and, really, it’s hard to think of things much more important–the main event of this mission is to grab a sample of the asteroid and bring it back to Earth for all kinds of testing. Scientists are pretty convinced asteroids carry all the basic ingredients of life. And, if you can prove that is true, then the argument that there is life in ubiquity as we look out into the cosmos gets a little bit stronger, doesn’t it?
We produced a piece for the PBS NewsHour on this. We will link to it on our website, at milesobrien.com. But, like always, when we do a story like this, there’s a lot that ends up on the cutting room floor, lots of interesting detail. So, if you’re into asteroids, space, and the possibility of us going the way of the dinosaurs, why don’t you keep listening and you’ll learn a little bit more about Bennu and OSIRIS-REx.
We met at mission headquarters at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, and we begin with the leader of the mission, the Principal Investigator, Dante Lauretta.
Dante Lauretta: I call myself a Planetary Scientist or a Cosmo Chemist.
Miles O’Brien: Oh, Cosmo Chemist, I like that. Cosmo Chemist, that’s the good one. It is hard to beat the planetary protector though, I think that’s the best business card of the world, right, yeah. Anyway, all right, so let’s–big picture on the significance of this mission. To go on an asteroid, grab a little piece of it and bring it back. This has been done in a smaller scale kind of, but this is big audacious and never been done before. Put it in context.
Dante Lauretta: OSIRIS-REx is a true mission of scientific exploration, we’re going back to asteroid Bennu which dates from the dawn of our solar system, and we’re driven by key questions about “Where did we come from, how did the solar system form, why is the Earth habitable and really how did the origin of life occur?” We believe the answers to those questions are contained in the samples from the surface of this asteroid.
Miles O’Brien: When you say “go back to Bennu,” when we were at Bennu?
Dante Lauretta: I meant, go back in time.
Miles O’Brien: Oh, okay, all right.
Dante Lauretta: Yeah.
Miles O’Brien: Asteroids are coming like a little deep freeze of our ingredients, right? I mean it help us understand why they are so cool.
Dante Lauretta: Asteroids are rocks that are the remnants from the very beginning of our solar system. In fact, there are grains in meteorites that we believe come from these asteroids that literally date the age of the solar system. So, the very first solid material that formed that went on to grow into asteroids and ultimately planets, that history is recorded in these rocks.
Miles O’Brien: And we can’t find that anywhere else easily, can we?
Dante Lauretta: One of the reasons we’re going to get a sample from this asteroid is because we are interested in particular in the chemistry of carbon and organic material and the role that these objects played in the origin of life and when we get meteorites on the surface of the Earth, that information is very quickly contaminated and lost to us.
Miles O’Brien: We don’t get the good stuff from the meteorites, right? By the time they get us, we have missed out on all the good ingredients, I guess, right?
Dante Lauretta: Meteorites definitely have issues when you are trying to address these questions about the origin of life. I like to compare it to a trial, right? Where you are presenting your evidence and you have not had control of that evidence from the very beginning. And so the likelihood that there was some introduction of misleading material is likely. With OSIRIS-REx, we are going to collect the sample from the surface of the asteroid. We have gone to extreme measures to keep that sample clean and pristine so that we know when we are looking at the organic chemistry, the carbon chemistry of the sample that we are indeed looking at something that happened four and a half billion years ago.
Miles O’Brien: So, we know a lot more about asteroids than we used to, even 20 years ago, but we still don’t know a lot, do we?
Dante Lauretta: Asteroids are the future of planetary exploration. They’re amazing objects that display all kinds of interesting physical and geological properties that you don’t see happening anywhere else in the solar system. There is a rich new area, I call it a new field of astrophysics, that we have been developing to explain how these small asteroids behave, how they change, and how they move through the solar system.
Miles O’Brien: What’s the best way to describe of what an asteroid is? Is it kind of a protoplanet that just never got passed that point? I mean, did Earth start as an asteroid at one point, we think?
Dante Lauretta: Asteroids are the leftovers from the formation of a solar system, and there’s a wide array of them. We can study the different chemistry and mineralogy by looking at the way they reflect or interact with light. And we see that they represent a whole sequence of literally the first grains entering our solar system, and then condensing in our solar system, all the way up to, literally small planets that went through an entire geologic life cycle. They formed the building blocks of the Earth, the building blocks of Mars, and the other terrestrial planets.
Miles O’Brien: Without an asteroid or rather that big one, we probably wouldn’t be here today and the dinosaurs would still rule the planet, right? I mean, they are of great consequence in the way planets form and the way life is altered on planets, right? We know of one planet with that happens, but presumably others.
Dante Lauretta: It’s clear when we look at the surfaces of planets across our solar system that asteroid impacts that played a major role in shaping their geologic history. On Earth, that’s particularly important because when an asteroid impact occurs, it has catastrophic consequences for the biosphere. We know this happened about 65 million years ago. We have evidence of a giant impact crater off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and we’re pretty certain that that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Bad news for them, good news for us because the mammals were then over able to take over and ultimately evolve into humans.
Miles O’Brien: Of course, it’s just a matter of time before something like that happens again, so I would imagine that’s at least part of what you’re doing here in this mission?
Dante Lauretta: OSIRIS-REx is a mission of security. It’s in our mission name. We are interested in asteroid Bennu. It’s one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids that we know of within the solar system. It would cost widespread regional damage, if it were to impact the Earth, and the impact is likely on a relative sense to occur some time in the next 200 years. So, not only are we understanding this asteroid in particular but we are developing the technologies and the procedures to send a spacecraft to interact with one of these objects in the event that a future deflection mission is needed.
Miles O’Brien: We don’t right now if the orbits will intersect in that 200-year period but it is possible?
Dante Lauretta: We have a very good measurement of the orbit of Bennu, we can predict it accurately to the year 2135. In that year, Bennu comes in between the Earth and the Moon and its orbit after that becomes a statistical analysis because we don’t know exactly where in the Earth-Moon system it’s going to cross, but about one of every 2,700 of our simulations shows Bennu coming back and impacting the Earth after that encounter.
Miles O’Brien: So, we should pay attention to the Bennu?
Dante Lauretta: It’s important to understand this risk and to mitigate the risk when you look at a risk versus resources, I think we are spending about the right amount of time and energy to understand this and mitigate in the future.
Miles O’Brien: So, you have been in this business a long time. The idea of bringing samples, pieces of an asteroid back, that’s been discussed for quite some time. How significant a moment will this be? Assuming all goes well, in a few years down the road, when you have actual asteroid material on Earth and you are able to analyze it?
Dante Lauretta: OSIRIS-REx will be the largest sample-return from a planetary body since the Apollo missions, so we’re really are redefining the next stage of planetary exploration. We debated whether a sample-return mission was the right approach to answer our scientific questions and it just comes down to the fact that there is so much capability here on Earth when you want to get into the detailed chemistry and mineral composition of these objects, you have to get the sample back onto earth. Not only can we address our immediate scientific questions but you create a resource that’s available for future generations. Decades, even centuries into the future, people will be looking at these samples with techniques we can’t even dream of right now, answering questions we haven’t yet thought of.
Miles O’Brien: And I believe that’s kind of unfolding in the case of the Moon rocks, rights? There’s great science being done right now that technology is afforded, right?
Dante Lauretta: Yeah, NASA has done a great job maintaining and curating those samples that were collected by the Apollo astronauts. Those are still being actively studied. There is a whole community of lunar scientist that continue to go back to that collection with brand new techniques that didn’t exist in the 60s and 70s and learning all kinds of things about the Moon. For example, the amount of water that is contained in a lunar interior is a relatively new result that only came about because we had that collection available to us.
Miles O’Brien: What are the big questions that you hoped to answer. First, near term, and of course the questions long term are harder to define, I imagine. But, what’s on your mind, as you head there, as you look at this object, and as you bring some of it back?
Dante Lauretta: OSIRIS-REx seeks to address I think some of the most fundamental questions that we ask ourselves, particularly: where did we come from, and are we alone in the universe? Throughout my career, I have been fascinated by the idea of life elsewhere in the solar system or elsewhere in the galaxy, and I’ve always wanted to know how likely is it that there is something else out there living and breathing and enjoying this universe, and the best way to answer that is to understand well, how did it happen here? And the leading theory is that these carbon-rich asteroids were kind of the incubator for the organic chemistry key molecules, like amino acids and nucleic acids which make up our protein and our DNA, those were likely delivered to the surface of the Earth then kicking off the origin of life here on this planet. If we can prove that, if we can show the building blocks of life are contained in these asteroids, then those got delivered all over the solar system, and we don’t think the chemistry of our solar system is vastly different than the thousands of other solar systems that we are finding elsewhere in the galaxy, so the likelihood that life is out there I think it goes up exponentially.
Miles O’Brien: So there sure are a lot of rocks out there that are what we call Near Earth Objects, asteroids that are close enough that they might one day cause trouble for us.
It is, by the way, inevitable that there’ll be an asteroid headed our way at some point in the future. It’s happened in our past; we certainly know about what happened 65 million years ago when a rock the size of Manhattan hit what is now the Yucatan Peninsula, sending the dinosaurs into extinction and, truthfully, paving the way for mammals to take hold and for us to have this conversation.
But why Bennu? What was it about this particular asteroid that made it worth sending a spacecraft to it?
I posed that question to a man who was right at the center of that decision, the man in charge of the astronomy working group for OSIRIS-REx, Carl Hergenrother.
Miles O’Brien: So, as an astronomer, what’s your main job here? To make sure you go to the right rock, right? I think you got that one squared away, right?
Carl Hergenrother: Yeah, I got that squared away. My first job was actually picking that rock.
Miles O’Brien: Yeah–walk us through the process.
Carl Hergenrother: The whole OSIRIS-REx idea went back to 2004. You know, that’s going on almost 15 years now. There weren’t that many asteroids known back then. You had to go to an asteroid that was easy to get to and can come back from, in a reasonable amount of time, using a normal size rocket–there was no SLS, we weren’t launching on the shuttle.
So, you start off with hundreds of thousands of asteroids that are out there. But you can’t go far so you have to go to the ones that come close to the Earth. So, that chops your list down to a few thousands. Of those few thousand you have to go to one that’s on a reasonably conducive orbit, an orbit that doesn’t take a lot of energy or time to match with the object’s velocity, rendezvous with it, bring the sample back to Earth. Now, you’re down to 200. Most of these objects are either too small, which is bad for two reasons: one, they rotate too fast, a lot of small ones, and two, being small they’re faint, so they’re probably lost. So, you have to rediscover them.
So, when you take that 200 and look only for the bright ones, now you’re down to 20. Now, we didn’t want to go to just any asteroid, we wanted to go to one that was carbon rich, that might have had water in the past. So, of those 20, now we’re down to five that might be carbon rich, of which two, we definitely were sure were good objects to go to. And as it turns out, Bennu which is our target, the reason why it rose above the second one which I guess isn’t so ironic but is Ryugu, the Hayabusa2 target, was because we had this really good radar observations, get a really good shape model.
Miles O’Brien: Very cool. There really is only one asteroid to go to.
Carl Hergenrother: Yeah, it turns out there’s three now. There’s Bennu, Ryugu, which the Japanese went to, and there’s 2008 EV5, which was discovered after we had already selected Bennu.
Miles O’Brien: So, how do we know there’s carbon rich stuff and water? How do we – is that from mass spectrometry? How do we know?
Carl Hergenrother: We don’t know for sure. All these objects we’ve only studied from a far, which is one reason why we’re going there. And we just know from the spectroscopy that the colors of these objects are what you would expect them to be for objects that are carbon rich. And a lot of these carbon-rich asteroids especially in the main belt have shown evidence of cometary activity. So, it does show that there are volatiles there. Whether or not Bennu still has volatiles, well, we’ll see. It has gotten pretty close to the Sun and it’s pretty small, so it may have been kind of baked dry a little bit. But it definitely looks like the kind of object that hasn’t changed much over the history of the solar system.
Miles O’Brien: How do we know that there’s loose enough material on the surface to kind of get suck into that device with the nitrogen?
Carl Hergenrother: So, we do have infrared observations taken with the Spitzer Space Telescope that measured basically the ability of the surface to retain heat–how fast it heats up and how fast it cools off. The level of this what they called thermal inertia is correlated with whether an object is really rocky or whether it’s really sandy. And as it turns out for Bennu, it’s much closer to the sandy side than it is to the rocky side.
Miles O’Brien: Very cool. So, this is — for an astronomer this is kind of fun, going through this process of just selecting. I mean, you could — once you’ve selected the asteroid, you’re kind of done, right? Well, except.
Carl Hergenrother: Except, you have to learn so much about the asteroid. Of course the engineers and the mission designers want to know everything, including stuff that you can’t possibly know just looking at telescopes. So, we’ve spent about a decade observing it with Arecibo, with Hubble, with Spitzer, as well as a bunch of telescopes all around the Earth, to learn as much about this object as possible. And then of course once you think you know everything, is you have to plan the mission around it. And one of my big science investigations, my science goals, which I’m in the midst of right now, is that again, we’ve got all these telescopes, we’ve observed tens of thousands of asteroids, and we have all these models that kind of explain what we think we’re seeing, probably right or not. So, one of the things I’m doing as we’re approaching the asteroid and it’s still just a point, still a star in the sky to us is, okay, are we seeing the same stuff on this asteroid with the spacecraft as we saw on the Earth now that we don’t have look through a whole bunch of atmosphere and clouds and all those sorts of things, to really affirm that what we’re seeing on the ground and our interpretation of what we’re seeing on the ground is in fact reality.
Miles O’Brien: How is that driving so far?
Carl Hergenrother: So far so good. This is probably by far the best characterized asteroid out there that hasn’t already been visited by a spacecraft, and we’re still waiting for the big surprise, the one thing we got really wrong. It’ll happen. But we haven’t gotten there yet.
Miles O’Brien: Now that OSIRIS-REx is in orbit around Bennu, the big focus is finding a good place for that touch-and-go maneuver to grab the sample and head back to Earth. So they’ll be taking a lot of images, of course.
Dani DellaGuistina is the imaging processing lead.
Miles O’Brien: Okay, so, your mission is just on the cusp of beginning. Tell me what’s going to happen for you as the spacecraft gets closer to its quarry?
Dani: As the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft gets closer to Bennu, we’re going to be able to see it in a more detail and higher resolution through our imaging data in the next couple weeks. My job is, once we are seeing all of Bennu within the frame of one of our imagers, to use those data to map the asteroid. So, I’m really looking forward to that over the next couple of weeks to year.
Miles O’Brien: You got some work to do here?
Miles O’Brien: Because you really don’t know what you’re going to see, do you? You have a rough idea?
Dani: We have a rough idea, yeah, but we have a lot of work to do. We aren’t really sure what color, for example, Bennu is going to be and that is a way that helps us elucidate composition. So, we’re very excited about starting to look at Bennu with our color imager. And in particular, we’re going to be seeing how rocky the surface is. So, the amount of rocks or boulders on the surface is going to have a really big impact on where we choose to sample. And as a result, the imaging team plays a pretty important role in helping map out all of those hazards across the surface of the asteroid.
Miles O’Brien: Rocks are bad?
Dani: Rocks are bad– down to a certain size and then, any — I won’t call it a rock, but any pebble or fine that’s smaller than two centimeters in diameter is something that can be ingested into the TAG-SAM mechanism–so, that’s our sampling mechanism. And so, those pebbles will be great. And we’ll be happy if we can find a portion of the surface that is only covered in those small two centimeter and smaller pebbles.
Miles O’Brien: And this is a pretty small object, 1,800 hundred feet, if we’re going to use the U.S. system here, something like that. Why does it take so long to image it? Is it because you’re going into such detail?
Dani: Yeah, so the reason it will take so long for us to image Bennu is because we want to get all of that data at a particular resolution. So, the sampling mechanism has an outer ring, an outer annulus that is 21 centimeters, and that means that any object right about that size or larger could get stuck in the sampling mechanism. So, we want to avoid those objects. So we need to look at almost the entire surface, about 80%, in 21 centimeter or higher resolution.
Miles O’Brien: That would be a nightmare to go all the way up there and have your vacuum cleaner get clogged.
Dani: That would be a nightmare.
Miles O’Brien: Could you fix a clogged TAG? Well, you guys are great. You can probably fix anyone, right? Piece of cake, right?
Dani: We’re going to avoid that scenario altogether.
Miles O’Brien: How much pressure is on you to get this done right and get this done on time? Is this like a stressful or fun period or both?
Dani: Both a stressful and a fun period. We hadn’t seen an object Bennu-shaped before the Hayabusa2 mission visited asteroid Ryugu. And the surface of Ryugu is very rocky and it appears to have boulders and cobbles at all scales. And so, it is intimidating going into our mission operations now knowing what Ryugu looks like, which is a reasonable analog for Bennu, but we have spent years building the software and the workforce so that we can provide this hazard assessment at a rapid clip. And I have no doubt in our ability to succeed in that.
Miles O’Brien: Like all missions, there is this push-pull between engineering and science on safety versus science and sometimes the best science is not the safest and vice versa. You’re right at the middle of that, aren’t you?
Dani: Yeah. So, our imaging data is fed into both engineering and science decisions. And so, there’s four-key decision making maps that the OSIRIS-REx mission is building in order to help us find the best place on asteroid Bennu from which to gather a sample from. One is safety, one is sampleability, third is deliverability, and that’s more related to our flight dynamics team and their ability to safely navigate the spacecraft to a point on the asteroid, and the last is science value.
So, the imaging data plays a critical role in the safety, the sampleability. and the science value decisions.
Miles O’Brien: So, the poor scientist are like last on the list, right? You got to do all the safety stuff first, for gosh sake, right?
Dani: Well, I think no matter what happens, we’re going to be able to do an incredible amount of science. Even if we’re acquiring data specifically for understanding the sampleable areas of the asteroid, we’re still going to be able to derive a tremendous amount of science from that data, even if its primary role is to help inform more of a technical, engineering-based decision.
Miles O’Brien: Let’s assume a horrible worst-case scenario, you never get a sample back. I know that’s not going to happen. But, let’s assume for a moment. Would the imaging in and of itself push the ball forward enough to make people happy?
Dani: There has never been a dataset quite like the dataset the OSIRIS-REx mission is gathering, in terms of being able to image the surface of a body this small in such high-resolution detail. By looking at the surface of an object like this, at the resolution we plan to image Bennu at, we’ll be able to get a lot of insight into the behavior of small grains, particles in these thermally extreme and also low-gravity environments. And that, in and of itself is just very interesting from a purely scientific perspective.
Miles O’Brien: By the way, you said you don’t know the color. I thought asteroids were black, not necessarily? Or are they just non-reflective and there might be some other color?
Dani: Asteroids do vary a little bit in terms of their color as we might visualize them with our human eyes. And so, we expect Bennu is probably going to be visually look gray, but we can take information from our different color filters. So, we have a color filter that is roughly blue, roughly green, red, and one that’s a little far out past what the human eye can see in the near infrared. We can take that information and combine it in different ways than we might typically combine color data if we just want to see an RGB image and get a sense for what sort of colors the asteroid is reflecting most significantly relative to others. And that helps us elucidate composition. So, it’s very interesting and it also allows us to more quickly visualize where there might be compositional changes across the surface of the asteroid.
Miles O’Brien: So, Bennu could be blue?
Dani: It might have what we would call a slight blue slope which would not necessarily look blue to the human eye if we were standing in front of the asteroid and looking at it, but if you were to stretch it the right way on a computer screen, it could potentially have a blue slope.
Miles O’Brien: Cool! So, I understand your images would be available to the public to help find potential hazards that is to say rocks and boulders, right?
Dani: That’s right.
Miles O’Brien: Tell us about that.
Dani: Yeah. So, we are partnering with CosmoQuest, which is a citizen science program, and their role in the mission is to help us get crowdsourced counts and crowdsourced classification of hazards. So, we’re really happy to be partnering with them and to have this component of public involvement in such an important task within the scope of our program.
Miles O’Brien: You need the help?
Dani: It depends how many boulders on the surface there are. So, in these sort of situations, better statistics is always something that we’re looking for. And the more people that count an object and measure it, the more statistically robust our measurements will eventually become. And so, yeah, we can always use better statistics and crowdsourced help.
Miles O’Brien: So, once the team finds that site, here’s what they’re going to do: the actual grab-and-go. It’s not a landing, really, so much as it is a bouncing off the surface briefly. There’s no real gravity there–it’s about 100,000 times less pull of gravity than we have here. So the touch-and-go, which will get them the sample, is designed with that in mind.
Here’s Carl Hergenrother again–he’ll walk us through it.
Miles O’Brien: So, when it happens, when you reach the surface, it’s kind of like a pilot would call it a touch and go, maybe. What’s the idea there?
Carl Hergenrother: So, if you remember for those of us who are kind of our age or older, the old car air filters, the kind of round ones, you drop in, screw down. That’s kind of the concept of what we call the TAG arm, the touch and go sample mechanism. It’s got one of these round filters and it’s basically you can almost think of it like a pogo stick. There’s a shock absorber. Because this object’s so small, it has really low gravity. So about 30 meters up, we kind of go into a free fall. We slowly fall with our arm extended out. As soon as it touches the surface, there’s canisters of nitrogen gas that will blow into the surface. It will kick up all of the material on the surface, which then gets caught by the air filter. The whole time this is going on, the spacecraft continues the kind of descend and shorten up the shock absorber. And then, we kind of like pogo stick off.
Miles O’Brien: Landing would be hard?
Carl Hergenrother: Landing would be hard because for one thing, if anything moves, there’s no gravity holding you in place. So, you’ll have that torque going the other way.
Miles O’Brien: And we’ve see this happened before, right?
Carl Hergenrother: Yes. So, the thing that you want to do is you want to have as few moving or no moving parts as possible. And the problem with most missions, whether it’s a comet or an asteroid, is how do you grapple onto the surface. And the problem there is yes, you can have things like harpoons, but as we found out on Rosetta, they had a harpoon and it hit a big chunk, it turns out ice when it’s really cold, is as hard as rock.
Miles O’Brien: Philae went off.
Carl Hergenrother: Yeah.
Miles O’Brien: So, then it gets–you grab the air filter, it’s filled, it gets in the canister and that’s it, you’re done. You come back, right? I mean, no more science after that, right?
Carl Hergenrother: Well, we do have three canisters. So, if for whatever reason, it didn’t work–we didn’t collect sample or we collected to small a sample to actually be able to know for sure that there is sample in the mechanism, we could try it two more times. But let’s assume it’s successful, we back off to a safe distance, which is a few tens of kilometers away from the asteroid. We spend a few days kind of characterizing, doing a bunch of different tests and images that see, did we actually get sample and how much do we think we have. And then once we’re satisfied that we have sufficient amount of sample, yeah, we start the journey back home.
Miles O’Brien: And what is the definition of sufficient?
Carl Hergenrother: 50 grams or 60.
Miles O’Brien: 60 grams, right? 60 grams. It’s a Snickers bar! All that way for a Snickers bar worth of stuff, is that enough?
Carl Hergenrother: It’s never enough. We’d always want more. And in fact, there’s a good chance we will end up with a lot more than 60 grams, but it’s just the beginning. And that’s the thing, it was almost like sending the first couple, three ships over to the Americas. Was that enough? No. But, you’ve got to start somewhere.
Miles O’Brien: So that sample, assuming all goes well, will be back on Earth in 2023 and it will keep scientists busy for years. Matter of fact, scientists are still busy looking at the Moon rocks which were brought back by the Apollo missions, ‘69 to ‘72. As technology improves, there’s more science to do on them.
The team at OSIRIS-REx has vowed to save 75% of whatever comes back for future generations of scientists to analyze, and that’s pretty much what we did in the case of Apollo. So there’s a lot of interesting science that will come out of this down the road. For now, we wish the team well, finding a good site, and pulling off that daring grab-and-go maneuver.
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Thanks for listening! I’m Miles O’Brien and this is Miles To Go.
Banner image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.