NASA launches space probes to visit asteroids

Asteroid lovers attention: NASA is ready to launch several probes into space to visit and even impact some of the most attractive rocks in the solar system.

The Lucy probe will be the first to go into space this weekend on a 12-year journey to swarms of asteroids near Jupiter, time capsules that have not been explored since the dawn of the solar system. And yes, there will be diamonds in the sky for Lucy, on one of her science instruments, as well as lyrics for other Beatles songs.

NASA is scheduled to take off at dawn on Saturday.

A month later, the DART spacecraft will chase a double asteroid closer to home. The mission will end when Dart collides with the main asteroid’s moon to change its orbit, an experiment that could one day save Earth from approaching a boulder.

Next summer, a spacecraft will blast off into a world of rare metals – a nickel-iron asteroid that could be the exposed core of what was once a planet. A pair of the company’s small ships, the size of suitcases, will be ejected from another group of twin asteroids.

And in 2023, a space capsule will parachute into the Utah desert with the first NASA samples of an asteroid, collected last year by the Osiris-Rex excavator robot. The specimens are from Bennu, a rock with debris and boulders that could endanger the Earth within two centuries.

“Each of those asteroids we visit tells our story, the story of the solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.

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There is nothing better than understanding how our solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago, said Hal Levison, chief scientist for Lucy from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “They are planetary formation fossils.”

China and Russia will collaborate on an asteroid mission later this decade. The UAE also plans to visit asteroids in the next few years.


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