NASA's space shuttle program may be winding down, but that doesn't mean the agency is done exploring the cosmos.
A little more than a week after Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's husband Mark Kelly blasted off in the Endeavor, NASA announced plans launch a robot that will gather samples from distant asteroids. The mission aligns with President Obama's commitment to reorient NASA towards more deep space missions, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said that it would pave the way for future human space missions.
The robot, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-Rex for short, will use a robotic arm to snatch samples of asteroids. Asteroids are remnants of the solar system's birth, forming out of the collapse of cosmic dust and gas that formed the sun, so OSIRIS-Rex could bring back some valuable clues about the origins of the solar system.
This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration, said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington, D.C.
In 2016 OSIRIS-Rex will embark on a four year journey to the asteroid 1999 RQ36. Once it arrives the craft will spend about six months mapping the surface of the asteroid before collecting about two ounces of material and returning to Earth.