One hundred million miles is a long way to go for a small cup of dirt, but that’s what University of Arizona scientists are setting out to do this week, weather and many other factors permitting.
The final hours are counting down to the launch of OSIRIS-REx, the UA mission to an asteroid with the goal of bringing back two ounces or more of soil from the celestial body’s surface.
Scientists hope the mission will “help us understand why we are here, how we are here and how likely it is that this kind of process, origin and evolution of life may have occurred elsewhere in the solar system and even throughout the galaxy,” said mission leader and UA planetary scientist Dante Lauretta.
The launch is currently scheduled for Thursday afternoon Tucson time. The entire mission - to the asteroid Bennu and back to Earth - will take seven years.
The mission has been years in the making, and a rather smooth lead-up to launch has instilled confidence in many on the team.
“I am absolutely not nervous because we have a phenomenal team and they know what they are doing and I have my full and faith that they are going to get this job done,” Lauretta said.
Forecasters say the chance that weather postpones the launch is minimal. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will journey to Bennu to collect samples and then return the material to Earth.