We do not get many opportunities to pause and reflect on the abilities of the human mind, but today is providing the chance to consider the possibilities of genius, particularly when you consider the relatively short time since humans mastered flight.
NASA launched OSIRIS-REx a year ago, sending it on its way to the asteroid Bennu, where it will take samples and return them to earth.
It doesn’t have enough fuel to get there, which is OK because in the time since its launch, the earth has swung in its orbit to meet the spacecraft again.
It will pass within 11,000 miles of us just before noon today, and use the earth’s gravitational pull to slingshot itself toward the asteroid. It — or rather someone’s human mind — accomplished this by factoring in the six degree difference between the earth’s orbit around the sun and the asteroid’s.
If all goes well, the slingshot will match the spacecraft’s speed and trajectory to the asteroid’s.
It’ll look like this:
— NASA's OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) September 22, 2017
The spacecraft’s Twitter account is urging people to “wave” to it today, which is a pretty appropriate way to get people to stop and consider just how smart our species can be when we put out minds to it.
— Mariabelen (@valegabo) September 22, 2017
In today’s process, giving the spacecraft some momentum takes some away from the earth’s, the New York Times says. Not to worry. We’ve got plenty and fall will still arrive as scheduled later this afternoon.
How will the spacecraft bring its samples back to earth? Gravity takes care of that, too.
Gravity is cool.
All credit goes to whomever inspires us in math, science, and physics.