The Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization that champions space exploration and space-inspired industries, awarded NASA’s first-ever asteroid sample return mission, Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification , Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), with the prestigious 2022 John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration.
“It is humbling to join the list of so many incredible honorees. The recognition in this case goes to a very great NASA team, and we are honored to have played a part in the OSIRIS-REx mission” says Richard Binzel, a co-investigator on the project and a post-tenured professor in MIT’s research department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).
Launched in 2016, OSIRIS-REx traveled to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, arriving in 2018, where it successfully harvested a piece of the asteroid. Currently, the spacecraft is en route to Earth with this small sample, which is expected to return in 2023. In collaboration with the Harvard College Observatory, MIT provided the REXIS (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) instrument built by students, a joint effort across multiple units. at MIT, including EAPS, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro), the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. The objective of REXIS is to analyze the effect of X-rays from the sun on the ground of the asteroid, by identifying the chemical elements on the surface of Bennu.
“Being part of the OSIRIS-REx mission has been an incredible experience for the entire REXIS team, which is made up of many talented engineers and scientists,” said Rebecca Masterson, Principal Investigator at AeroAstro, who served as program manager and co -main. researcher on the REXIS project. “It was an honor to work with everyone involved. Now we are all eagerly waiting to see what new findings will result from the analysis of the sample.
The John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration was established in memory of NASA astronaut Jack Swigert, a native of Colorado, who flew on the Apollo 13 lunar mission. In 1982, Swigert was elected to the United States House of Representatives but died of cancer before being sworn in. The Space Foundation established the Swigert Prize in 2004 as a tribute to its legacy of space exploration.
According to Binzel, not only will the OSIRIS-REx mission provide invaluable scientific knowledge, but it has provided a unique opportunity for a generation of MIT students who worked on the project.
“Through Project REXIS and its interplanetary flight aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, nearly 100 MIT students gained hands-on experience designing, building, testing, and operating of space hardware over a 10-year period,” says Binzel. “REXIS is the first experiment by MIT students to fly in interplanetary space.”