Florida Tech Alumni To Speak Sept. 7 On OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission

By  //  September 6, 2016


This rendering shows the osiris-rex spacecraft in the process of extracting a sample from the nearly 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid bennu. (NASA Image)

BREVARD COUNTY , FLORIDA –Three graduates of Florida Institute of Technology’s Physics and Space Sciences program who are involved in NASA’s ambitious program to extract materials from an asteroid tumbling through space will speak in a town hall-style gathering from 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, at Gleason Performing Arts Center on the Florida Tech campus.

The event is free and open to the public.

Moderated by Daniel Batcheldor, head of Florida Tech’s Department of Physics and Space Sciences.

The event will feature three Florida Tech alumni involved in the OSIRIS-REx mission launching Sept. 8.

They are:

  • Amy Simon (Class of ’93), Senior Scientist, Planetary Atmospheres Solar System Exploration Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center;
  • Christian d’Aubigny (Class of ‘96), OSIRIS-REx/OCAMS Lead Optical Engineer, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona;
  • Kerri Donaldson Hanna (Class of ‘99), UKSA Aurora Research Fellow, University of Oxford.

Each panelist will offer a 10- to 15-minute opening statement on his or her role on the project before answering questions from the audience.

OSIRIS-REx – the name is an acronym for Origins Spectral Interpretation ResourceIdentification Security-Regolith Explorer – is a fascinating mission that, according to NASA, “seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience.

Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Asteroids, the leftover debris from the solar system formation process, can answer these questions and teach us about the history of the sun and planets.”

After its Sept. 8 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, scheduled for 7:05 p.m., the spacecraft will travel to Bennu, a nearly 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid that’s about twice the length of the Titanic and moving at an average speed of 63,000 mph.

Bennu’s surface material, known as regolith, may record the earliest history of our solar system.

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“Bennu may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans,” NASA said.

Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century, according to NASA. OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission.

Asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals. In the future, these asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the solar system by robotic and manned spacecraft.