Wednesday, September 14, 2016

OSIRIS REx to intercept asteroid.


Naomi Butterfield has started working for NASA in Cape Canaveral doing coding. She works in the building right across from the Vehicle Assembly Building (in sketch). She invited some of her Kerouac House friends out to witness the launch of OSIRIS REx. NASA is a sprawling city unto itself. 900 people work in Naomi's building alone. Long stretches of swamp lined roads separate the different areas. We stopped at the security check point where an armed guard checked Naomi's badge and waved us through. An armored assault vehicle was parked on the side of the road. The vehicle assembly building was at the end of a long road. It always appeared to be the same size as we approached it. The building is huge. It is one of the largest buildings in the world based on it's volume. The American flag painted on the building was the largest in the world when added in 1976 as part of United States Bicentennial celebrations. The blue star field  on the America flag is the size of a regulation basketball court. Each star is six feet across.

We drove into a grass field and parked. About 8000 people showed up to watch the launch. The bleachers faced the wrong way. Back in the days of the space shuttle launches, the crowds were much larger. Press occupied a spot at the top of a small hill. We arrived several hours early which gave me time to face the wrong way and sketch the assembling crowd. Naomi and Janna conducted some Kerouac House business and the two teenage boys who had joined us explored.

OSIRIS REx, which is short for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. Try saying that 5 times fast. It is on a 7 year mission to intercept the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample and then return back to earth. The vehicle will not land on the asteroid, instead it will fly next to it, spray nitrogen, and then touch and go to collect the sample of about 2 ounces. This asteroid could revolutionize our view of the beginning of the early solar system. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early Earth and other planetary bodies. That's right they may have sparked life. An uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses, providing results far beyond what can be achieved by spacecraft-based instruments or by studying meteorites.

The countdown proceeded at a glacial pace, and then there was a 15 minute delay. Regardless, It was nice to sit with friends, and watch the sun set behind the vehicle Assembly building. I finished the sketch with ten minutes remaining in the countdown and I turned East to face the launch pad...


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