Ithaca College Faculty Member Hopes Asteroid Samples Will Reveal Solar System History

ITHACA, NY — Beth Ellen Clark Joseph, associate professor and chair of physics at Ithaca College, will spend 2010 working on a concept study with fellow members of a science team whose proposal to study asteroid geology has been selected as one of three finalists for NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The project, OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer), will marshal the expertise of scientists from 14 colleges and universities as well as the Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, the Johnson Space Center and other organizations. Michael Drake, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, is the principal investigator.

A mission to probe the atmosphere and crust of Venus and a mission to drop a robotic lander on the moon and return with rocks for study are the other two proposals to have made it to the final round.

“These are projects that inspire and excite young scientists, engineers and the public,” said NASA official Ed Wieler. “They provide the best science value among eight submitted to NASA this year.”

The proposals were submitted to NASA last July in response to the New Frontiers Program 2009. In the 12-month concept studies about to be undertaken, the science teams will focus on implementation feasibility, cost, technical plans, educational outreach and small business opportunities. NASA will then select one of the proposals for full development. The selected mission must be ready for launch no later than 2018.

“Our plan is to navigate a spacecraft to the surface of the asteroid, acquire samples and return them to earth for analysis,” Clark Joseph said. “Our target asteroid contains records of geologic conditions that were in place before the solar system was formed. The asteroid is a time capsule. Studying the samples will increase our understanding of how the planets were formed as well as give us insights into the sources of prebiotic organic compounds necessary for the origin of life. This mission would be the first in the history of space exploration to return a pristine sample of a carbonaceous asteroid.”

If selected, OSIRIS-Rex would be the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The first was launched in 2006 and will fly by the Pluto Charon system in 2014. The other will be launched in 2011 and will orbit Jupiter to conduct the first studies of the giant planet’s atmosphere and interior.

We have high hopes for OSIRIS-REx,” Clark Joseph said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity to not only advance the borders of science but also to give Ithaca College students the chance to experience the excitement of spacecraft exploration and to conduct cutting-edge research in planetary astronomy and astrophysics.

OSIRIS-REx would also give Clark Joseph a chance to collaborate with students as both a teacher and a fellow scientist.

For more information, contact Beth Ellen Clark Joseph at (607) 274-3968 or

Originally published in News Releases: Faculty Member Hopes Asteroid Samples Will Reveal Solar System History.

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