Send Your Name to an Asteroid for Free!

So have you ever wanted to visit an asteroid? Well, sorry, you can't. But if you want to have your name written on a space probe headed to an asteroid, then head on over to The Planetary Society and fill in a form. It's free! Names can be submitted until September 30, 2014.

NASA is launching a space probe in 2016, called OSIRIS-REx, to fly to the asteroid 101955 Bennu and return a sample in 2023. With the help of The Planetary Society, founded by Carl Sagan and now ran by people like Bill Nye, you can have your name written on the space capsule that will fly with the space craft to the asteroid, spend 500 days there and return with a sample back to Earth.

Futhermore your name will also be written on the space craft itself which will stay in space. It is possible that it could stay there for hundreds of thousands of years. The very last record of you ever existing could be what's written on that space craft.

 Radar-images of the asteroid.
101955 Bennu is a dark carbonaceous asteroid about 493 meters wide. Scientists like Bennu because asteroids can tell us what it was like when the Solar System was young and because it's not very hard to get there. Because everything in space is flying in some direction, to catch up to anything in space requires lots and lots of fuel. More fuel means bigger rockets. Since Bennu is on a similar orbit to Earth, it means we don't have to spend a lot of fuel to get there. Bennu's orbit takes it close to the Earth every six years. The next time coming up in 2016.

The asteroid has a low albedo which means it is very dark, like all carbonaceus asteroids. Because of that, the asteroid is really hard to see on a telescope. Sending a space craft to study it can tell us much more about what the asteroid actually looks like. Carbonaceous asteroids consist mostly of carbon, which is a vital ingredient for the creation of life.

Bennu is also the 3rd most likely asteroid to hit Earth. Scientists have calculated about 8 potential impact events between 2169 and 2199, but the probability for impact is not higher than 0.07% for all eight encounters. We really don't have to worry about an impact but making sure we understand Bennu's orbit is important nonetheless.

The goal of OSIRIS-REx (which stands for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) is to fly to Bennu, which will take about 2 years. Once there it will start mapping the surface at a distance of 5 km, for 505 days. From the results a sample site will be chosen and a robotic arm will grab a sample of the surface. The sample will be put on a capsule which will be launched towards Earth, where the sample will be retrieved. It will also study the Yarkovsky effect on the asteroid. The Sun is pushing with its radiation and slightly changing the orbits of all asteroids and understanding the effect it has on Bennu's orbit is important.

The Planetary Society is a non-profit organization founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman. The Society is dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System, the search for Near Earth Objects, and the search for extraterrestrial life.

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