NASA has launched a new spacecraft into space whose purpose is to prevent a possible disaster. This new spacecraft is expected to land on the potentially deadly asteroid Bennu by 2018.
In a further five years it should return to our planet with samples from the potential country killer, which it is feared could strike us in the next 200 years. The crucial data gathered will then be used to help stop the monster asteroid.
At an estimated 500 metres in length, the mega rock would be unlikely to end life on Earth, but could cause widespread devastation and even wipe out a country.
The asteroid is set to pass close to the Earth in 2135.
So close in fact, that it is feared the gravitational pull of our planet could pull it in closer for a hit during another passby later that century.
The mission was last night praised by Planetary Science Division director at NASA, Jim Green.
He cheered: “Nasa did it again.”
NASA chief scientist, Ellen Stofan added: “Tonight is a night for celebration. We are on our way to an asteroid.”
Mission organisers hailed the launch as a success saying it was hitting all its early milestones.
Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx programme manager, said: “The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is happy and healthy.”
Bennu was discovered by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Project on September 11, 1999.
The asteroid passes our orbit every six years, coming as close as 180,000 miles of Earth, or as far away as 211 million miles.
Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, said: “That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century.
“It may be destined to cause immense suffering and death.
“We’re not talking about an asteroid that could destroy the Earth.
“We’re not anywhere near that kind of energy for an impact.”
The asteroid believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs was an estimated 6 miles wide.
So the OSIRIS-REx mission is a vital one that could safeguard the future of Earth.
It will allow scientists to develop ways for dealing with asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
This will involve devisiing ways to use a spacecraft to deflect the course with gravity rather than blowing them up, which could just send more smaller rocks hurtling at us over a wider area.
Edward Beshore, Deputy Principal Investigator for the mission, said: “If astronomers someday identify an asteroid that presents a significant impact hazard to Earth, the first step will be to gather more information about that asteroid.
“Fortunately, the OSIRIS-REx mission will have given us the experience and tools needed to do the job.”
Nasa also hopes samples from Bennu will hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of the water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth, which were vital to allow life to form.
He added: “We are going to Bennu because we want to know what it has witnessed over the course of its evolution.
“Bennu’s experiences will tell us more about where our solar system came from and how it evolved.
“Like the detectives in a crime show episode, we’ll examine bits of evidence from Bennu to understand more completely the story of the solar system, which is ultimately the story of our origin.”
A NASA apokesman said: “The spacecraft will spend a year flying in close proximity to Bennu – its five instruments imaging the asteroid, documenting its lumpy shape, and surveying its chemical and physical properties.”
If all goes well, OSIRIS-Rex should land in the Utah desert in 2023 with a 60g sample from Bennu.