BALTIMORE (WJZ) — This morning, NASA engineers got ready to embark on an ambitious billion-dollar effort to chase an asteroid.
Scientists believe the asteroid Bennu holds the keys to our solar system, and life on Earth.
Tonight, NASA will launch what they call a robotic asteroid hunter named Osiris-Rex.
“Osiris-Rex will be the first NASA-led mission to retrieve a sample and bring that sample to Earth,” says Deputy Program Scientist Christina Richey. “It will also be the largest sample return since the Apollo era.”
It will take the craft two years to reach Bennu, an Empire State Building-sized asteroid that orbits the sun about once every 14 months. Then it will loop around the asteroid, mapping its surface. Finally, it will extend an arm to vacuum up gravel and soil to bring back to Earth.
Scientists believe Bennu could be rich carbon dating back to the origins of our solar system. If that’s true, it could serve as a time capsule for scientists, who could use the vacuumed-up dust from its surface to find out how life appeared on Earth.
Bennu is also on NASA’s list of potentially hazardous asteroids, meaning it could possibly collide with Earth one day, although there’s only about a one-tenth of 1 percent chance of that happening in about 150 years.
The mission has a billion-dollar price tag, and will take seven years if everything goes according to plan.