While planet Earth has had a dull month with the number of Coronavirus cases spiking in most places, space has had a rather eventful one. The Tesla Roadster that was sent by Elon Musk, has passed closer to Mars than anyone on Earth has ever been. Not to be far behind the private sector, NASA just had a spacecraft land on an asteroid and get back some rocks for us.
Starman, last seen leaving Earth, made its first close approach with Mars today—within 0.05 astronomical units, or under 5 million miles, of the Red Planet pic.twitter.com/gV8barFTm7
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 7, 2020
The mannequin dubbed “Starman” is bolted onto the driving seat of a Tesla Roadster, and was part of a dummy payload attached to a second stage SpaceX heavy rocket. Launched in February 2018, the Roadster was launched as a joke after NASA had declined SpaceX’s offer to carry a scientific payload, and Elon Musk invited suggestions for a “silly payload” on Twitter.
The Roadster is currently circling around the sun with an orbital period of about 557 days. Even though we can’t see it anymore, we don’t expect it to look anything like it did in the picture above as we expect solar radiation and space debris to eat away all the organic matter like the paint, seats, tires, etc. If you are interested in tracking the Starman, you should definitely check out this link that is updated in real-time – https://www.whereisroadster.com/
TAG! We're it!
Just released: new @OSIRISREx views from yesterday as our spacecraft touched the surface of asteroid Bennu for about six seconds, and used its robotic arm to attempt to collect a sample of rocks & dust: https://t.co/s4WUCt26bX#ToBennuAndBack pic.twitter.com/dPL00ZvlxY
— NASA (@NASA) October 21, 2020
Also, for the first time in human history, NASA has landed on an asteroid, Bennu, about 200 million miles away from Earth. Launched in 2016, the mission was planned to Touch-and-Go (TAG) the asteroid Bennu which is expected to hold the key to the ancient beginnings of the universe and planets. The TAG mission lasted for a few seconds where pressurized nitrogen gas was blown out of the arm of the OSIRIS Rex Spacecraft and scientists are hoping was sufficient to blow some rocks into the collection pods.
Since there is an 18.5 minutes communication lag between the spacecraft and Earth, the whole process was preprogrammed and performed autonomously. To know if we actually collected any samples, the spacecraft will perform some spins to check its inertia, and if this is different than what was found before the TAG, we know we have some samples. If we didn’t get a sample, the spacecraft will continue to orbit the asteroid and will try again in January 2021. If OSIRIS Rex has collected at least 60 grams of rocks, it will start its journey back to Earth and can be expected back sometime in 2023.
Analyzing these rock samples will tell us a lot about the conditions that exist in outer space and how life came about to exist on this little rock we like to call Earth! Are you more excited about Musk’s Tesla reaching Mars, or about finding rocks that tell the stories of Millenia? Tell us in the comments!
Fount of wisdom, insufferable know it all, make it go away are just some of the phrases used to define Melwyn. When he is not at his Consulting job, he spends his time reading about technology and current affairs.