GREENBELT, Md., March 15 (UPI) — NASA says it is considering a project that would return a sample from asteroid 1999 RQ36 that might shed light on how the solar system was born.
“This asteroid is a time capsule from before the birth of our solar system,” said Bill Cutlip of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
If selected, Goddard will provide overall mission management for OSIRIS-REx, working with the Principal Investigator, Michael Drake, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems would build the spacecraft.
“You can’t underestimate the value of a pristine sample,” Cutlip added. Meteorites, pieces of asteroids that break away and plunge to Earth, are “toasted on their way through Earth’s atmosphere,” Cutlip said. “Once they land, they then soak up the microbes and chemicals from the environment around them.”
OSIRIS-Rex project science Joseph Nuth added, “With a pristine sample … scientists will learn more about the time before the birth of our solar system, the initial stages of planet formation and the source of organic compounds available for the origin of life.”
OSIRIS-REx was one of three proposals selected by NASA in December for more study under its New Frontiers program. Whichever mission is selected, it must be ready for launch no later than December 30, 2018.
More information about OSIRIS-REx is available at http://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/ORIRIS.htm.
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