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USU Scientists Built Cameras For NASA's Latest Mission

Kyle Todecheene, The Utah Statesman

NASA launched a rocket Thursday night carrying cameras built by scientists at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. SDL employees and their families gathered to watch a live stream of the launch and celebrate four years of hard work.

Matt Sorensen, an electrician for the Space Dynamics Lab project that built three cameras for the spacecraft, said watching OSIRIS-REx finally take off was a relief.

“It was pretty surreal,” Sorensen said. “I’ve seen other rocket launches, but I think it meant a lot more because I had so much time invested in this particular launch. So to see it take off… it was pretty exciting.”

The cameras took about four years to build, with a crew of nearly 60 people. Sorensen said the Space Dynamics Lab had to use entirely new techniques to build the cameras.

“It was small and we had to align it so well that it was something we hadn’t done before,” he said.

The rocket was launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:05 p.m. MST on Thursday. Jessica Jensen, the financial manager for the project, says OSIRIS-REx will travel to an asteroid near earth called Bennu and bring back a small sample for testing.

“They’re supposed to collect about 60 grams, which is about the size of a Snicker’s bar,” she said.

All that work for a Snicker’s bar-sized rock? While it likely won’t be tasty, the small sample will tell us more about our solar system. Bennu may contain information about the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans. Bennu is also one of the most threatening asteroids in our solar system, and scientists say it has a high probability of hitting earth in the 22nd century. Jensen says this mission could help us learn more about Bennu so we can potentially keep it from hitting earth.

OSIRIS-Rex is expected to catch up with Bennu in 2018, head back for Earth in 2021 and land back in Utah in 2023.