Legendary Queen Guitarist Brian May Helped NASA Return Asteroid Sample To Earth
Legendary Queen guitarist Brian May played a vital role in the OSIRIS-REx mission that successfully returned a sample of asteroid Bennu. May and his colleague, Claudia Manzoni, created stereoscopic images from the O-Rex data that helped the team locate a safe landing site for sample collection.
The 76-year-old guitar player has a hobby that may surprise some of his fans, as he also holds a doctorate in astrophysics and is an accomplished scientist. In fact, May and Manzoni have published a book about the OSIRIS-REx mission called "Bennu 3-D: Anatomy of an Asteroid." Unfortunately, May could not be on site when NASA retrieved the sample because he was preparing for a US tour that begins next week. He did, however, send out a congratulations to the team that aired on NASA TV.
In the video, May remarked, "This box, when it is opened of material from the surface of asteroid Bennu, can tell us untold secrets of the origins of the universe, origins of our planet, and the origins of life of itself. What an incredibly exciting day."
The OSIRIS-REx mission was the first US mission to collect a sample from an asteroid. The dust and rock samples collected in 2020 will offer generations of scientists a look back into time when the Sun and planets were forming 4.5 billion years ago, according to NASA.
The spacecraft got its first glimpse of Bennu in August 2018, sending back grainy images taken at about 1.4 million miles. In December 2018, OSIRIS-REx mapped the asteroid in detail while the mission team, with the help of May and Manzoni, searched for a safe sample collection site. The landing site was dubbed "Nightingale" and was located in a northern crater 460 feet wide.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addressed why studying asteroid Bennu goes beyond just studying the origins of life as he remarked, "Bennu is a potentially hazardous asteroid, and what we learn from the sample will help us better understand the types of asteroids that could come our way."
Currently, the sample of asteroid Bennu is in its initial curation process. NASA says the process is moving slower than anticipated, but for good reason. As the space agency says, "The sample runneth over." The abundance of material the canister held meant the process of disassembling the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head was "off to a methodical start."
However, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft did not land back on Earth and is continuing on a new mission. This mission, called OSIRIS-APEX (OSIRIS-APophis EXplorer), will explore Apophia, an asteroid roughly 1,200 feet in diameter and coming within 20,000 miles of Earth in 2029.
Perhaps May and Manzoni will also play a vital role in the OSIRIS-APEX mission. Until then, anyone who wants to read their book, Bennu 3-D: Anatomy of an Asteroid, can purchase a copy via the London Stereoscopic Company Ltd website.