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Spaceship chasing an asteroid slingshots past Earth

Posted at 8:28 AM, Sep 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-25 08:28:31-04

spaceship sucessfully zipped by Earth on Friday and used our planet’s gravity to help it pick up speed on its way to explore an asteroid.

NASA is launching a space probe called OSIRIS-REx on Thursday, September 8, 2016 to chase down a dark, potentially dangerous asteroid called Bennu. The probe will take a sample of the asteroid and — in a US space first — bring the sample back to Earth.

NASA’s OSIRIS-RExflew about 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Antarctica at 12:52 p.m. ET.

The maneuver, called an Earth gravity assist, pointed the spacecraft in the right direction to match Asteroid Bennu’s path and speed, NASA said in a statement.

As a result of the flyby, NASA said the velocity change to the spacecraft was 8,451 miles per hour (3.778 kilometers per second).

“The Earth gravity assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel,” the mission’s principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, said earlier in a statement.

While OSIRIS-REx was making its flyby, mission scientists at the University of Arizona tested its instruments and used the spacecraft’s camera to take pictures of the Earth and moon.

It won’t be the last we see of this spacecraft. It will be back in 2023 — and it will come bearing gifts. NASA launched OSIRIS-REx from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in September 2016 to chase down Bennu, a dark asteroid that could one day threaten Earth.

The probe is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in August 2018 and will survey the asteroid for several months. Then, in July 2020, it will use its robot arm to blast the asteroid with nitrogen, causing it to kick up rocks and dust. It will try to snag a sample of the dust to bring back to Earth in 2023.

It’s not too late to wave

If you missed the flyby, don’t worry, we should get some pictures soon.

NASA encouraged amateur astronomers with specialized gear to photograph OSIRIS-REx as it passed by and to share their photos with the space agency.

“The opportunity to capture images of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it approaches Earth provides a unique challenge for observers to hone their skills during this historic flyby,” Lauretta said.

And it’s not too late to wave goodbye to OSIRIS-REx. The mission team is asking the public to celebrate the Earth gravity assist by joining in the “Wave to OSIRIS-REx” social media campaign.

No matter where you are on Earth, take a selfie (or a group photo) waving to OSIRIS-REx. Share your photos at hashtag #HelloOSIRISREx.

On Tuesday, the OSIRIS-REx team will let us know how everything worked out with the flyby. They’ll discuss the results and release images taken by the spacecraft’s cameras.