By Lisa Romero, BIO5 Institute
Members of the public are invited to use social media to share their predictions about solar system exploration in the year 2023. Selected entries will travel through billions of miles of outer space, all the way to the asteroid Bennu and back.
The OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission team invites the public to submit short statements and images about solar system exploration – today and in the future – to fly aboard the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launching in 2016.
The Asteroid Time Capsule campaign asks people to think about what space exploration looks like today and what it might look like in the year 2023. They can share their predictions via Twitter or Instagram.
A digital collection of the top entries will travel to the asteroid Bennu aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Led by the University of Arizona, the robotic OSIRIS-REx mission is the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth.
The selected entries will be etched into two "time capsules," each consisting of a one-square-inch silicon wafer. One wafer will be affixed to the spacecraft, the other will be attached to the sample return capsule, which will detach and deliver its cargo of asteroid material to Earth in 2023.
"Our progress in space exploration has been nothing short of amazing," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator and professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Lab and Department of Planetary Sciences. "I look forward to the public taking their best guess at what the next 10 years hold and then comparing their predictions with developments in 2023."
Posts can be about science, engineering, technology or other subjects related to space exploration today and in 2023. OSIRIS-REx will collect tweets and choose the top messages and images to send with the spacecraft.
"We're excited to see if we can predict how we will be operating in space a decade from now," said Ed Beshore, the mission's deputy principal investigator. "Here's a sample – '2014: We're building a spacecraft to go to an asteroid for a sample; 2023: We'll be using asteroids for fueling stations for expeditions.'"
OSIRIS-REx will study and map the 1,760-foot-wide asteroid Bennu for two-and-a-half years, then will collect a sample of surface material and head back to Earth. In 2023, after a journey of more than 3.9 billion miles – the equivalent of going around the earth 160,000 times – the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will release the sample return capsule as it approaches Earth.
The capsule will enter Earth's atmosphere at about 28,000 mph, streaking across the western United States and landing in the Utah desert, returning as much as 4 pounds of asteroid material and one of the two "time capsules" to Earth. Upon arrival, mission managers will retrieve the digital content to check on the predictions. The other wafer, affixed to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, will continue to travel through deep space indefinitely.
"In 2023, when the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule comes back to Earth with some of the oldest material found in solar system, we'll see where public perceptions of space exploration in 2014 were and where we thought we'd be in 2023," Lauretta said.
A few simple rules help guide members of the public in creating a time capsule entry:
OSIRIS-REx's sample of asteroid material will help with the investigation of planet formation and the origin of life and will provide insight into the future exploration of asteroids for resources and economic development. The data collected from the asteroid also will aid in the threat assessment of future asteroids that are headed toward Earth.
The Asteroid Time Capsule campaign complements "Messages to Bennu!," a public engagement campaign launched in January that invites people from around the world to submit their names to fly on the spacecraft.
Submissions for both campaigns will be accepted until Sept. 30.
"We have collected almost 350,000 names with the 'Messages to Bennu!' campaign," Beshore said. "Our goal is to collect 500,000 names by the end of September, but we'd like to shatter that goal."
"OSIRIS-REx has to take many years to perform a complex asteroid sample return," said Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for The Planetary Society, a public outreach partner on the mission. "A time capsule capitalizes on the long duration of the mission to engage the public in thinking about space exploration: Where are we now, and where will we be?"