NASA’s ‘Lucy’ Launch success means over a decade of study to come

Space Exploration

Satellite's study of asteroids to offer a glimpse into the past

NASA

HOUSTON (KIAH) — It’s a mission that has been in the planning stages since 2014, and will take years to finish it’s mission. But, over the weekend, NASA’S newest mission to study asteroids got underway, as it shot for the stars in a spectacular way.

NASA’s “Lucy” mission, the agency’s first to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, launched at 4:34 a.m. Saturday from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Over the next 12 years, Lucy will fly by one main-belt asteroid and seven Trojan asteroids, making it the agency’s first single spacecraft mission in history to explore so many different asteroids. Lucy will investigate these “fossils” of planetary formation up close during its journey.

CW39 Anchor Sharron Melton talks with NASA Instrument Scientist Carly Howett, with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), who studies asteroids, about the importance of this mission and what it means for our planet.

“Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said. “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”

About an hour after launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41, Lucy separated from the second stage of the ULA Atlas V 401 rocket. Its two massive solar arrays, each nearly 24 feet wide, successfully unfurled about 30 minutes later and began charging the spacecraft’s batteries to power its subsystems.

NASA

“(This) launch marks a genuine full-circle moment for me as Lucy was the first mission I approved in 2017, just a few months after joining NASA,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator of Science Mission Directorate, said. “A true mission of discovery, Lucy is rich with opportunity to learn more about these mysterious Trojan asteroids and better understand the formation and evolution of the early solar system.”

Lucy sent its first signal to Earth from its own antenna to NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:40 a.m. The spacecraft is now traveling at roughly 67,000 mph on a trajectory that will orbit the Sun and bring it back toward Earth in October 2022 for a gravity assist.

Named for the fossilized skeleton of one of our earliest known hominin ancestors, the Lucy mission will allow scientists to explore two swarms of Trojan asteroids that share an orbit around the Sun with Jupiter. Scientific evidence indicates that Trojan asteroids are remnants of the material that formed giant planets. Studying them can reveal previously unknown information about their formation and our solar system’s evolution in the same way the fossilized skeleton of Lucy revolutionized our understanding of human evolution.

For more information, visit the NASA Lucy Link.

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