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article imageAsteroid mission offers (nominal) immortality for all

By Robert Myles     Jan 16, 2014 in Science
Tucson - NASA and the Planetary Society have issued a global invitation to individuals to have their names etched on a microchip that will be on board a spacecraft launching in 2016. The spacecraft will rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu two years later.
The “Messages to Bennu!” invitation seems certain to fulfil its objective of capturing the public’s imagination in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, one of the most ambitious ever undertaken.
Led by the University of Arizona, the robotic mission to Bennu, an asteroid just 1,760 feet wide, aims to land a spacecraft on the surface. NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx for short, will spend more than two years gathering data at Bennu. But the jewel in the crown of this mission is the ultimate goal of collecting and returning a sample from Bennu’s surface to Earth in 2023.
A computer-generated illustration shows the likely shape of Bennu  a pristine carbonacous asteroid m...
A computer-generated illustration shows the likely shape of Bennu, a pristine carbonacous asteroid measuring about a third of a mile across. Bennu is the target of the UA-led OSIRIS-REx mission .
NASA/University of Arizona
The countdown for Osiris-REx, part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, started Dec. 9, 2013, with 999 days to go until the opening of the mission’s launch window in September 2016. Come autumn 2016, Osiris-REx will start a journey lasting more than two years before its rendezvous with the asteroid in October 2018. The craft is scheduled to spend up to 505 days in close proximity to Bennu 505 globally mapping the asteroid's surface from distances varying between 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) down to just 700 meters.
Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson described the mission as "a pioneering effort, both technologically and scientifically.”
Highlighting the international co-operation that has gone into the mission, Lauretta added, “Osiris was formed from pieces scattered across ancient Egypt, where he awoke as the bringer of life and ruler of the underworld. Our spacecraft has a similar story — it will be consist of components fabricated in locations around the world, that once together, will allow us to connect with a near-Earth object that is an accessible remnant from the formation of our solar system."
The mission’s objective of returning a pristine sample of a carbonaceous asteroid to Earth, a space exploration first, will enable scientists around the world to gain a better understanding of the origins of the solar system, Earth and how life may have originated, says Lauretta.
The Planetary Society is now accepting applications for “Messages to Bennu!” Those participating will see their names hitching a ride to the asteroid, spending 500+ days there, before returning in the Sample Return Capsule to Earth in 2023. But in addition, applicants' names will be on the spacecraft, which will remain in space long after samples have been returned to Earth from Bennu.
Commenting on the campaign, Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, said, “Through this campaign, we’ll put your name aboard a spacecraft that will travel to an asteroid and back, making you an active participant in humankind’s exploration of the solar system. How cool does that sound? At the Planetary Society, our mission is to engage the citizens of Earth in space exploration and the Messages to Bennu! campaign fits right in with this belief.”
Participants who “like” the mission on Facebook will receive mission updates as well as status reports on OSIRIS-REx’ location from launch date right through to sample return in 2023.
Until Sept. 30, 2014, applicants submitting their names to the “Messages to Bennu!” campaign can download and print off a certificate documenting their participation in the OSIRIS-REx mission.
The paper certificate, or whoever it’s certificating, come to think of it, won’t last forever. But who could refuse the chance to have their name, boldly going, in space for eternity?
More about Bennu, asteroid bennu, OSIRISREx, NASA OSIRISREx, sample and return mission
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