Story: The solar system has all kinds of objects in motion, including asteroids, chunks of rock and metal that originated in the early days of the solar system, when they might have been planets or other much larger objects. There is of course the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, home to innumerable such broken chunks, but many other asteroids exist outside that region as well. Some of the chunks can be massive, remnants of the solar system’s early days that number over one million in count. If one of the asteroids with enough size were to head toward Earth, the impact could wipe out entire cities, if not cause even more widespread destruction. Enter OSIRIS-REx, a spacecraft designed to study an asteroid and even collect samples, so we can learn about these ancient remnants.
Entertainment Value: After watching NOVA episodes on the planets and Kuiper belt objects, it was a natural progression to Touching the Asteroid, which offers an in depth look at yet another historic space mission. OSIRIS-REx was designed to travel to a near-Earth asteroid, study the object, document via images, and even make contact to collect samples. That is a wild concept, to touch down on the surface of the asteroid and collect samples, which could reveal so much about not just asteroids, but the origins of our solar system. After a look back on other asteroid related missions, we’re taken inside the OSIRIS-REx mission itself and shown the general overview of the design and construction, as well as the hopes for the mission.
I found the segment on asteroid selection to be quite interesting, as there are so many out there, so seeing the process taken was enlightening. The team would eventually choose an asteroid known as Bennu, which they believed dated back to the very start of the solar system and as such, could hold some invaluable clues to its creation. This is why the sample collection was so crucial, as the elements and organic compounds would be a scientific treasure trove. This episode runs about an hour and is a non stop information tour, all of which is interesting and the episode’s structure works well, with a focus on the science and the team members involved. As is always the case with these space mission episodes, seeing the passion and drive of the team is part of the experience and I always appreciate seeing that, as the science here is remarkable and historic. Touching the Asteroid is recommended to anyone with an interest in science or space documentaries.