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UArizona asteroid probe makes its closest approach

But even a space mission feels coronavirus effects
Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-29 22:20:22-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - NASA’s and University of Arizona’s spacecraft to grab a sample of an asteroid and bring it to Earth has come within about 200 feet of the asteroid. Now scientists are setting up to grab the sample in August---if coronavirus doesn’t get in the way.

Wouldn’t you like a chance to get your mind away from it all? Part of this story is millions of miles out in space. But the coronavirus could still have the power to affect the mission of Osiris Rex.

A video loop shows the Osiris Rex space probe easing in as it would the day it touches the surface of Bennu, grabs a sample and prepares to bring it to Earth. Last week it came within a little over 200 feet---about two-thirds the length of a football field--The closest so far in the mission.

Mission leader Dante Lauretta says controllers held back a certain temptation.

“I definitely felt like, man, we're so close we should have just kept going in, but we actually learned a lot of detailed lessons about the process so we're going to make sure it's done right and done save so it was the right thing to do to check out the systems.”

Osiris Rex was certainly working remotely and most of the mission team was too. Lauretta says NASA covers most of the mission budget and it has not made cuts because of Coronavirus but there is still a chance the virus could affect the mission.

The sample grab is set for August but it could be delayed.

“I would say the doubt comes from the current remote work environment that we're in, and also we are heavily reliant on a Deep Space Network antenna in Madrid and Spain has been particularly hard hit by this pandemic.”

But Lauretta says if there is a need for delay there are still several months when the asteroid and Earth line up to give Osiris Rex a flight path home.