Written by By Alex Milan Tracy, CNN
On November 15, NASA will launch an unmanned spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid. First, it will hurtle past the Earth at 18,000 miles per hour, which will be the closest it will come to our planet. Then, after 150,000 miles, the spacecraft — called Osiris-Rex — will crash into the asteroid.
The test is to test the effectiveness of planetary defense strategies, which would involve halting incoming asteroids, should one pose a danger to Earth. But the new Osiris-Rex mission — which cost $800 million, according to NASA — could even unearth ancient alien life.
“It’s bringing back samples of an old, Earth-like meteorite from space that could be a biological sample or organic material from an ancient life-bearing planet,” said Steve Chazin, Osiris-Rex principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology.
The Osiris-Rex probe is an orbital asteroid sample return mission. Credit: AP Photo/NASA-JPL-Caltech
Osiris-Rex is an unmanned spacecraft that will journey to the object called Bennu, which NASA says is a potential space rock that could threaten life on Earth. Osiris-Rex will capture samples from the surface, return them to Earth, and then haul them back to the planet.
It will launch with a heavy gravity assist from the historic “Deep Space 1” spacecraft launched by NASA in 1961. The mission is NASA’s first to sample an asteroid.