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Want to send something to an asteroid? Here's your chance: NASA and the Planetary Society are taking names for the OSIRIS-REx mission, which is due to head out to the asteroid Bennu in 2016. And you don't even have to leave your computer chair to participate.
That's because they're not taking names for would-be space travelers. Instead, they're letting folks submit their names to be etched onto a microchip that will be sent aboard the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The $800 million mission calls for the craft to arrive at the 1,760-foot-wide (500-meter-wide) asteroid in 2018 for two years of study. It will collect at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material and deliver the sample back to Earth in a capsule in 2023.
One microchip will be stowed on the sample return capsule. Another copy will be placed on a different part of the probe that will remain in outer space long after the sample has landed.
There's lots of depth to OSIRIS-REx, which is run for NASA by the University of Arizona. The mission's acronym stands for "Origins - Spectral Interpretation - Resource Identification - Security - Regolith Explorer." That list reflects the fact that the mission will help scientists learn more about how the solar system was formed, what kinds of materials can be extracted from asteroids, and how to deal with a potentially threatening asteroid. Which Bennu is.
When you submit your name via the Planetary Society's "Messages to Bennu" website, you'll be able to print out a certificate telling the world that your name will be on a ride to an asteroid. And if you "like" the OSIRIS-REx Facebook page or follow its Twitter account (@OSIRISREx), you'll be able to keep up with all the updates before and after the 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The deadline for submissions is Sept. 30.