Sorry to be off the 'net for the past 2 days but a combination of computer issues and power outages conspired to make it so. Pretty intense weather, including tornado warnings gave just a glimpse of what the dear people of Joplin have had to endure.
NASA has just selected its' first ever asteroid sample return mission - Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx. This mission is scheduled for a 2016 launch.
According to NASA, "After traveling four years, OSIRIS-REx will approach the primitive, near Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36 in 2020. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping. The science team then will pick a location from where the spacecraft's arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023. The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost approximately $800 million."
Asteroids are left over from the formation of our solar system and are extremely important to study. In addition to the scientific aspects of studying them, they are also potential treasure troves of mineral resources and potential threats to our planet from impacts. A returned sample would give us pristine material to study and add to our understanding of theses roaming worlds.
The asteroid to be visited, as described by NASA, is RQ36 and "is approximately 1,900 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields. The asteroid, little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system's infancy. The asteroid also is likely rich in carbon, a key element in the organic molecules necessary for life. Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples, indicating some of life's ingredients can be created in space. Scientists want to see if they also are present on RQ36."
This mission will also help provide needed information for a manned mission to an asteroid which has been named as an objective for NASA's manned spaceflight program.
Read More About It: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/osiris-rex.html and
Sky Guy in VA