The Sept. 8 launch of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, is a milestone for space research and for a few Florida Tech alumni.
Florida Tech grads Amy Simon, Senior Scientist for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Christian d’Aubigny, OSIRIS-REx/OCAMS Lead Optical Engineer for the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona; and Kerri Donaldson Hanna, UKSA Aurora Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, all had a hand in the mission.
The spacecraft lifted off at 7:05 p.m. from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, to rendezvous with, study and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. The goal of the mission is to help unlock the secrets of the beginning of our universe.
“We are finding the building blocks of the solar system,” Simon said.
Simon attributes her experience at Florida Tech as a stepping stone to the goals she has achieved in her career. After earning her bachelor’s degree in space science, she went on to get her Ph.D. at New Mexico State and postdoctoral work at Cornell, before beginning her career with NASA.
“The degree (space science) was unique,” Simon said. “When I first started working with NASA, I could talk to engineers more easily. Since I had an undergrad research position, I had already attended science meetings, and I had more experience with public speaking than other grads.”
Simon’s role was integral in building the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), which measures visible and infrared light from Bennu.
“(OVIRS) will pick the best place to get a sample from,” Simon said. “It will spend a year mapping out the surface (of the asteroid) and will find the safest place to get that sample.”
This is the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth, and Simon is proud to be a part of the process.
“It’s so nice to finally get to the point of launching,” Simon said. “This has been an exciting mission.”
She also has a bit of advice for young, aspiring scientists.
“Take advantage of the opportunities you have,” Simon said. “You never know when something will lead to another opportunity. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do something. Prove them wrong.”