On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.
"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News
On May 26 the OSIRIS-REx science team completed their first rehearsal and close approach to their back-up sample-grab-and-go site on Bennu, dubbed Osprey, getting as close as 820 feet. The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows that sample site within the white box. According to the image caption, the “long, light-colored boulder to the left of the dark patch, named Strix Saxum, is 17 ft (5.2 m) in length.” Note also that they have rotated the image so that east is at the top in order to make it more easily viewed.
This particular spot in this crater is actually a revision from their first choice from early in 2019, which originally was to the right and below the dark patch in the center of the crater. After six months of study, they decided instead on the present target area above the dark patch, because it seemed safer with the most sampleable material.
So how safe is this new location? Let’s take a closer look.
The photo to the right is taken from the full resolution mosaic of today’s image [a very large file], and focuses specifically on the region in that white box. Even so, the image resolution is reduced. To see just this section at full resolution you need to click on the picture.
This is a very gravelly surface, with no dust, and many many pebbles larger than an inch across. Since OSIRIS-REx’s grab-and-go equipment is designed to collect objects smaller than 0.8 inches, there is a lot of stuff here that it can’t grab, but if disturbed could very well damage the spacecraft. And since Bennu’s gravity field is so weak, any contact with it will certainly disturb it, causing many of these pebbles to fly all over the place, as we saw when Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft did two touch-and-go sample grabs on the similar asteroid Ryugu. (Images from the first can be seen here, and a movie of the second here.)
In other words, the sample grab at Osprey would be a risky proposition.
If you are now saying thank goodness this is the back-up site, don’t. The primary site Nightingale is really not much better, and is probably as risky. The actual sample-grab-and-go at that primary site is presently scheduled for October 20, with a final rehearsal getting to about 131 feet set for August 11.
Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well. It will likely take a bit of praying to help the engineering.
We are now in the third week of my annual July fund-raiser for Behind the Black. My deep thanks to everyone who has so far donated or subscribed. The response this year has been wonderful.
We are not done yet. This monthly fund-raiser is now half over, and I am hoping the second half will result in as many donations as the first half did. If it does, I will remain free to continue my writing as I see fit, unblemished by the efforts of others to squelch my perspective in this increasingly intolerant world.
This year's fund-raising drive is also significant in that it celebrates the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
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