Dante Lauretta, a professor in the UA’s Department of Planetary Sciences, is leading the biggest NASA mission the UA has ever undertaken. Scheduled to launch in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will rendezvous with asteroid Bennu, scoop up a sample, and bring it back to Earth. Lauretta shares his insights about the project.
Why should we care about asteroids?
Asteroids are interesting because they are the earliest remnants from the formation of the solar system and may have brought the water onto the Earth. Also, asteroids are our closest neighbors in space. When they impact, it could be a major natural disaster. But unlike an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, an asteroid impact is the only natural disaster we can avert. We think Bennu is a water-rich asteroid that contains platinum and other precious elements. Water and organic compounds together could be used for life support and rocket fuel.
What makes OSIRIS-REx special for the UA?
This is the next mission in the long legacy that the UA has had in supporting NASA exploration missions. At $1 billion, OSIRIS-REx is more than twice the budget of the Phoenix Mars Lander. This shows our growth in that area. We are able to provide technology and leadership that are critical to NASA’s objectives. The mission also is an amazing opportunity to educate our students. I started on a NASA space grant internship in 1992; now we have 30-40 undergraduates working on the mission at any given time, in addition to graduate students who are doing their research projects and performing essential work for mission success.