Leader of NASA's First Mission to Retrieve Asteroid Samples will Speak at Ithaca College

ITHACA, NY — Dante Lauretta — professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona and principal investigator of NASA’s first mission to bring back asteroid samples for study and analysis—will visit Ithaca College on Thursday, Sept. 13, to give an overview of the project. Free and open to the public, the talk will begin at noon in the Center for Natural Sciences 208.

Entitled OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer), the project will require a 3.5 billion–mile roundtrip to a primitive, carbonaceous asteroid called 1999 RQ36. Launching in 2016, the spacecraft will execute a touch-and-go maneuver at a selected sample site before returning the collected sample to Earth in 2023. Scientists participating in OSIRIS-REx are currently conducting studies to determine the process for selecting the optimal sampling site.

“The target asteroid contains a record of the conditions when the solar system first formed, so you can think of 1999 RQ36 as a time capsule,” said Beth Ellen Clark, associate professor of physics at Ithaca College and the OSIRIS-REx Mission Asteroid Scientist. “Studying the samples will improve our understanding of how the planets formed and provide insights into the formation of prebiotic organic compounds needed for the origin of life. Also, because 1999 RQ36 crosses the Earth’s orbit every 1.2 years, OSIRIS-REx will give us data to help refine the asteroid’s orbit and devise strategies to mitigate possible impacts between Earth and other celestial bodies.”

OSIRIS-REx 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. The mission is the third in NASA’s New Frontier Program. The first was launched in 2006 and will fly by the Pluto-Charon system in 2014. The other launched in 2011 and will orbit Jupiter to conduct the first studies of the giant planet’s atmosphere and interior.

For more information, contact Keith Davis, assistant director of media relations, at (607) 274-1153 or kdavis@ithaca.edu.

This conceptual image shows OSIRIS-REx moving into place to sample asteroid 1999 RQ36.