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NASA’s $800 Million OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Mission Is Inspired By A Solo Cup, Here’s How

First Posted: Aug 22, 2016 04:21 AM EDT
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US space agency NASA is going to launch its much anticipated Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) next month. As part of the mission, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to asteroid Bennu and capture a boulder from the surface of the asteroid, drag it into orbit around the Moon and then bring the sample back to the Earth for further study.

What's interesting to note is the fact that the mechanics that will make possible the collection of dust sample from the asteroid is inspired by a Solo cup. The $800 million OSIRIS-Rex mission, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, is aimed at collecting space dust which could be more than 4.5 billion years old. It is believed that the asteroid sample will throw light on how life originated on Earth and how the materials necessary for life- carbon and ice- reached the planet, reported Phys.org.

Dante Lauretta, Osiris-Rex principal investigator with the University of Arizona, Tucson, said that they are seeking asteroid debris which date back to the very dawn of the solar system. The spacecraft will launch will launch atop an Atlas V rocket on September 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The spacecraft will take at least two years' time to reach asteroid Bennu and it will return back to the Earth with the samples in 2023.

The one issue which bothered NASA scientists was not landing on the asteroid but getting close enough to collect dust samples for several seconds. As there will be zero gravity on the asteroid, it was feared that the device might scatter dust, instead of gathering it. Luckily, Jim Harris, a Lockheed Martin Engineer, had a solution for the issue- the reverse-vacuum concept, reported Pulse Headlines.

Harris placed a pierced Solo cup with the rim facing down on the ground. Then, he used an air compressor to blow air through the cup's holes. The dirt which came out through the holes was collected in another container. Initially, Harris named his creation Muucav, "vacuum" spelled backwards, but, later on he changed it to TAGSAM, an acronym for the Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism. The NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission will rely on the same TAGSAM mechanism to collect debris from the asteroid.

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