back to article NASA signs off on sampling mission to Earth-threatening asteroid

NASA has given final approval for a billion-dollar mission to visit one of the most potentially dangerous asteroids to Earth, collect samples and bring them back home for analysis. OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling mission Asteroid sampler to set off in 2016 The OSIRIS-REx* mission, proposed by the University of Arizona, will …


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  1. Gene Cash Silver badge


    The thing lands on the asteroid, perturbing the orbit just enough that it actually hits Earth. Oops! I guess that's as close as I get to a tinfoil hat icon.

    1. stucs201

      Re: So...

      You mean it could return 100% of the asteroid as a sample?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: So...


        "Awesome - so totally, totally, fucking awesome!"

        (extinction - here we come)

    2. LarsG


      It's not the ones we know about that are dangerous, it's the ones we haven't seen yet that pose the real problem.

  2. andywoho003

    It's all good

    Everyone, chill out. We've all seen the documentaries "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon". We know destroying this thing involves a shuttle, landing on the asteroid, and then nuking it to kingdom-come.

    ...Wait. What do you mean, we scuttled the space shuttle program??

    1. K

      Re: It's all good

      You forgot Bruce Willis! ... We all know he's the only man with the skillz to do it.

      We should freeze him now. Else come the impact date, he'll just be a talking head in a jar :(

  3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


    It's obvious! Asteroid Return Sampling Explorer.

    Or for the Americans, Asteroid Sampling Spacecraft.

  4. Captain DaFt

    Asteroids are sneaky!

    Remember what happened last time?

    While we had our eye on one getting to close, it's little buddy slipped in from the opposite direction and went on a window busting spree in Russia!

    Better put a camera on the back of that probe, just in case!

  5. VeganVegan


    For the text, it looks like if we wait long enough, the whole asteroid will fall into our laps anyway.

    I'd propose a mission that waits until it does so, and then spend the hopefully well-invested mission funding scooping up whatever bits that survives Earth entry. (Oh yes, and help pay for whatever damages it causes)

    1. hplasm

      Re: But..

      Cheaper to wait- £10 for the cart, £10 for the donkey to pull it, £10 for the shovel and £2 for the six survivors to dig out the bits.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    The good news is....

    We'll know exactly what we are about to get hit by!

    1. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: The good news is....

      Which, to be serious for a moment, could be useful as knowing what the thing is made of could help define a suitable evasion strategy.

      Moreover - if the data is of most use to James Cameron and his asteroid mining buddies, why don't they pay for part of that mission and save NASA some bucks for other things?

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

    IIRC that was why the Stardust capsule (comet, not asteroid) plowing into the desert.

    The $240m on the rocket suggests they will be using an Atlas but I wonder what the price for an F9H would be?

    A lot can happen between now and launch day....

    Reservations apart thumbs up for an exciting and demanding mission.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

      You'd think that somebody could have spent 2 seconds with a Sharpie marker and drawn an arrow on the accelerometer. That such a small part destroyed the integrity of that missions findings has always bothered me.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

        > That such a small part destroyed the integrity of that missions findings has always bothered me.

        Well, it shouldn't.


        1.1) The accelerometer assembly SHALL be marked with an arrow point to the TOP of the accelerometer.

        1.2) The accelerometer acceptance bay SHALL be marked with an an arrow indicating the location of the accelerometer TOP in a complete assembly.

        1.3) The assembly specialist MUST check before launch that the installed accelerometer marking TOP and the accelerometer acceptance bay marking TOP do correspond.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

          IIRC LM said it was something to do with someone reading the blue prints from the wrong side.

          In an era of CAD/CAM systems plotters and high resolution laser printers I did not know anyone actually used them any more.

          Hard to believe...

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

            Yep. Blueprints are still common practice. Here at our place the machine shop uses the plotter outputs for initial designs and spec compliance but after everything is approved we send the files off to a traditional blueprint shop. The high contrast makes them easier to see, the blue color hides the splatters of layout fluid that inevitably get on them and it reduces confusion: Too many white pieces of paper has more than once led to expensive rework. With the blueprints you get a higher level of confidence that you're working with the correct plans. Plus they look very cool framed and hung on the wall.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

              ...and it reduces confusion: Too many white pieces of paper has more than once led to expensive rework. With the blueprints you get a higher level of confidence that you're working with the correct plans.

              Oh how I wish that were standard practise in the construction industry nowadays! The number of times I'm talking to someone on a job and they've got no idea which version of the drawings they're looking at, and the spec and the drawings disagree... GRRRRRRRRRRAAAAARRRGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! It's just a big old folder full of badly-organised and badly-named files, so no-one can find anything.

              I dread to think what that must be like with plans for complicated things like aeroplanes or spaceships - as opposed to simple things like buildings.

        2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Let's hope LM get the accelerometer the right way up this time.

          Most well designed non-low level industrial electrical or electro-mechanical components are designed so that they cannot be fitted in an incorrect orientation. It's always possible to stuff up the original drawings but with modern circuit software and simulations if the part is correctly described then incorrect orientation should be flagged up very quickly. Unfortunately I've come across a lot of custom parts that don't stick with this basic principle and have seen a lot of destroyed components as a result, and have done some of this destroying myself. :)

          One off pieces of machinery like these probes are largely assembled by humans and designing from the ground up on the basis that the assembling human will insert parts incorrectly given the slightest opportunity to do so is the right way to design. Unfortunately I have come across "engineers" who when faced with parts that didn't fit in the orientation that they tried bent or removed pins to force the part to fit rather than rotate the component 180 degrees therefore you can't always protect yourself from idiots but I'd hope that the NASA team employed better assemblers than these.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mission naming

    The only reason for thinking that Mark Shuttleworth was not subcontracted to do the mission naming is that the two parts of its name do not begin with the same letter. (Or is this a cunning plan to throw people off the scent?)

    1. A. N. Other-Coward Silver badge

      Re: Mission naming

      So a Team put together for a Reconnaissance mission to an Asteroid, sometime in the Future could be...

      Future Asteroid Reconnaissance Team?

  9. NomNomNom

    "But this is a problem in itself – current orbital calculations suggest there are a potential eight impact points between it and our home planet between 2169 and 2199, with 2182 the most likely date."

    So it could hit us eight times...

    I suggest on the first impact we grab hold of it real tight so it can't bounce off again into space. If we let it go it will have developed a taste for small planets and will likely just come charging at us again after working up a really long run up. I don't blame the asteroid per se, after-all it is just it's natural instinct to ram planets, but I don't think we can let it run amok with such gay abandon.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      You just need to taunt it a second time and it will go away.

    2. M Gale

      You know I'm wondering if some people could stick a spear through it, tie its legs to a stick and haul it off to a Lagrange point for later mining attempts.

  10. JDX Gold badge

    So now we'll know exactly what it is that wipes us out


  11. Dropper

    Great Idea

    I will be the first to say "I told you so" when the asteroid follows its babies back to Earth..

  12. Chris Landau (geologist)

    Billion Dollar Bang on asteroid 101955 Bennu because NASA has cotton wool for brains

    So in summary,a billion dollars is going to be spent on sending a rocket to a half kilometer size asteroid to gather a pound of rock that has less than a 1% chance in 156 years time of hitting the Earth. As one rendezvous is not enough to know how much the orbit might change with time and multiple radar mappings based from Earth bound telescopes would far more accurately determine its actual orbit next century. Spectroscopic analysis from the Earth or from satellites orbiting the Earth would tell us if this is a carbon chondrite, a stony asteroid, a stony iron or a nickel iron meteorite. Perturbations of of the orbit of 101955 Bennu by other passing asteroids will determine its mass and density. We do not need to spend a billion dollars to do what we can do from Earth for a hundred thousand dollars.

    Now I do give the marketing team full marks for talking a hole in NASA'S head. They are brilliant in getting NASA to spend a billion dollars on a "PROJECT TO NOWHERE"

    Now The Dawn Mission, launched in 2007, that has already mapped the giant asteroid(dwarf planet) Vesta of 525 kilometers in 2011-2012 and will be arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres of 952 kilometers in 2015 designed and built by Orbital Sciences and managed by JPL has been a magnificent success so far at a cost of less than half a billion dollars for detailed analysis and year long photography of really giant bodies.

    There are two other giant asteroids Pallas of 544 kilometers and Hygiea of 431 kilometers. The Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) surveys have found 140 asteroids with diameters of 120 kilometers or more and we have to spend a billion dollars on a pint size half kilometer asteroid that has an infinitesimally low chance in 150 years time of colliding with the Earth.

    Now let us suppose that a 10 kilometer asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, What do you think a 120 mile or 500 mile asteroid let alone Ceres of 952 kilometers, will do to life on Earth. Do you not think that money is being thrown at irrelevant garbage to make some guys rich?

    Will it not make more sense to send out ion drive probes like Dawn to map the hundreds of 50 kilometer plus asteroids over the next 100 years. Let us stop swatting flies when there is a herd of elephants inside the house.

    NASA, wake up and get your priorities straight and get somebody with an IQ of slightly above 2 to manage the billion dollars you spend. Make the projects worthwhile with long lasting relevance. You are making scientists look like idiots. The paying public will not thank you for this in the years to come.

    Think NASA

    Chris Landau (geologist)


  13. James Green

    Death Star?

    Who put the Death Star in orbit of the Earth for the picture? I assume it's a Death Star given a) the appearance and b) it's far too small to be the Moon.

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