- Bashar Rizk, Senior Staff Scientist
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth carbonaceous asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36 in 2016, study it in detail, and bring back a sample (at least 60 grams or 2.1 ounces) to Earth. This sample will help us investigate planet formation and the origin of life, and the data collected at the asteroid will also aid our understanding of asteroids that can impact Earth.
The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission seeks answers to questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from? What is our destiny? OSIRIS-REx is going to Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid that records the earliest history of our Solar System, and bringing a piece of it back to Earth. Bennu may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans. Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids. It has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century. OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties. This will be critical for future scientists to know when developing an impact mitigation mission. Finally, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals. Future space exploration and economic development will rely on asteroids for these precious materials. Asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the Solar System by robotic and manned spacecraft.