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NASA’s Asteroid Sampling Probe Snaps Picture of Asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023

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OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid bennu
Satellite To Conduct Biological Experiments In Space, Plans Space Kidz India. VOA

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission OSIRIS-REx, which went into orbit around asteroid Bennu on New Year’s Eve, has captured incredible photographs of the smallest ever celestial body to be orbited by a spacecraft.

Launched from Florida in 2016, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza, on December 3, 2018 after travelling more than one billion miles through space.

“The mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km),” researchers from the Arizona State University (ASU) said in a statement on Thursday.

“The image was obtained at a 50-degree phase angle between the spacecraft, asteroid and the sun, and in it, Bennu spans approximately 1,500 pixels in the camera’s field of view,” it added.

The team of scientists found that Bennu is a craggy ball, with some boulders the size of houses.

They thought taking the sample return was going to be like plucking something from a football field. However, it is not.

“We didn’t know what it looked like, and that’s called exploration,” said Phil Christensen, Professor at Arizona State University (ASU).

“It’s going to be like landing between two parked cars in a parking lot,” Christensen said.

Asteroid
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

Bennu is not a solid rock. It’s either porous or formed of a very “fluffy” – Christensen’s word – material.

This type of meteorite is so fragile, if you get it wet or touch it with your hands, it’s ruined, said Devin Schrader, assistant research professor with the ASU.

Interestingly, these meteorites contain water. It’s not in liquid form, but it’s in the minerals – up to 2 per cent in some cases. Bennu’s parent body had significant interactions with water, said ,” said Vicky Hamilton, a co-investigator on the OSIRIS-REx mission, Schrader said.

The OSIRIS-REx will begin science operations in late February.

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At that point, the spacecraft will perform a series of close flybys of Bennu for several months to take high-resolution images of every square inch of the asteroid to help select a sampling site.

During the summer of 2020, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023. (IANS)

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NASA: Sending Back Astronauts to Moon in 2024 Could Cost About $30 Billion

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars

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NASA, mars
NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo's twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024. VOA

Returning astronauts to the moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation, NASA has said.

“For the whole programme, to get a sustainable presence on the moon, we’re looking at between $20 and $30 billion,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a TV interview on Friday, though noting that that figure does not include money already spent on the rocket and space capsule the agency plans to use for the programme, Efe news reported.

The total cost of the Apollo programme that the US launched in 1961 and concluded in 1972 was $25 billion. The climax of that programme came nearly 50 years ago when two astronauts landed on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, which cost $6 billion at the time, equivalent to $30 billion today.

nasa, moon
Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024. Pixabay

NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo’s twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024.

Bridenstine recalled that the main difference between the Apollo programme and the Artemis program is that the former culminated with brief stays on the moon while the latter will entail a permanent human presence there.

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and international partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the moon’s south pole within five years.

NASA, moon
That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin. VOA

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars. The programme includes an unmanned mission around the moon in 2020 and a manned mission that also will orbit the moon two years later. Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024.

ALSO READ: NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover, Latest Robotic Mission to Explore Ancient Life on Red Planet

The three lunar missions will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System, a rocket being developed by NASA and Boeing that will be the largest ever built once it is fully assembled. That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin.

Besides these missions exclusively handled by NASA, five other launches will be carried out to place in lunar orbit the components for construction of the Gateway mini-space station, which will serve as a staging post for moon landings. Those five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA’s plans. (IANS)