CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – A NASA spacecraft 200 million miles away has placed asteroid specimens in a capsule to return to Earth, after losing some of its precious plunder, scientists said Thursday.
Air traffic controllers took important action after some of the collected debris was dumped into space last week.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft collected pebbles and asteroids from Pennu on October 20, and its robotic hand briefly touched the surface, absorbing what was there. So much was collected – worth hundreds of grams – that the rocks were wedged into the edge of the container and strangled open, allowing some specimens to escape.
The remainder will not leave Penn’s orbit until March, when the asteroid and Earth will be properly aligned. It will be 2023 – seven years after the Osiris-Rex rocket made from Cape Canaveral – before the models arrive here.
This is the first American mission to go after asteroid models. Japan has done twice on other space rocks and expects its latest batch to arrive in December.
Rich in carbon, the solar-orbital pen is believed to hold the protected building blocks of the solar system. Scientists say they could explain how the planets in our solar system formed billions of years ago and how life came to be on Earth. Models can help improve our odds, they said, if a Doomsday Rock goes our way.
Pennu – a black, rounded rock larger than New York’s Empire State Building – could dangerously hit Earth in the latter part of the next decade. The odds of a strike are 2,700 out of 1. The good news is that when you build a sponge, it does not destroy the home planet.
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