NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Landing: Mission Touch and Go Maneuver October 20th


Contributed by Robert Melikyan

(October 13) The NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft will touch down on asteroid Bennu on Tuesday Oct. 20th. You can watch live coverage of this major event from 5:00 to 6.30 pm EDT on or on the NASA YouTube channel. PBS/NOVA will air an OSIRIS-REx Special on October 21st.


This will be a record-breaking event in the history of U.S. asteroid science and spacecraft exploration. The NASA team will Touch And Go (TAG) a 500-meter boulder in space (about 5 football fields wide), obtaining a sample from the surface to bring home. This precious scientific sample will inform scientists about the origins of our solar system, and possibly the origins of life on Earth.


OSIRIS-REx is an asteroid sample return mission to near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. This asteroid was originally targeted because of its proximity to Earth and because ground-based telescopes measured a spectrum indicating that Bennu has a primitive carbon-rich composition. NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in 2016 to observe the asteroid for site selection purposes. Arriving at Bennu in late 2018, the mission has already produced valuable scientific results for the worldwide planetary science community, ranging from observations of a hydration band to the discovery of rocks belonging to a completely different asteroid visible on Bennu’s surface. The most surprising phenomenon of all was the observation of marble-sized pebbles ejecting off the surface of the asteroid; something which has never before been observed on asteroids! 


Ithaca College’s very own Dr. Beth Ellen Clark, Professor and Chair of Physics & Astronomy, is the Mission Asteroid Scientist on the NASA science team and has been studying Bennu for almost 12 years. Students who have worked with Dr. Clark on this mission include Salvatore Ferrone ‘18 and Robert Melikyan ‘20, who both spent the summer of 2019 in Tucson, AZ working with renowned asteroid scientists. Salvatore, Robert and Antara Sen ‘23 (who recently began their work on this mission) have become integral parts of the mission team. Under the guidance of Dr. Beth Clark, these IC students and alumni have all made important contributions, furthering the scientific value of this NASA mission, and establishing Ithaca College in the Physics & Astronomy of space exploration.


If you would like to learn more about our students’ contributions to the mission, check out their presentations at the EuroPlanet Science Congress, 2020 (linked below).

Ferrone et al.: 

Melikyan et al.: 

Sen et al.: