Asteroid Hunt, NASA Launches Lucy Spacecraft with Atlas V . Rocket

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – A spacecraft from the United States Institute of Aeronautics and Space or NASA named Lucy skyrocketed on Saturday morning local time, October 16, 2021.

Lucy launches on a rocket Atlas V for the mission to explore eight asteroids, seven of which are mysterious space rocks that are among the asteroid swarms in Jupiter’s orbit, which are thought to be pure remnants of planet formation.

Lucy glide on a circular journey that spans nearly 4 billion miles (6.3 billion kilometers). Researchers unleashed the successful flight emotionally—lead scientist Hal Levison said the launch was like witnessing the birth of a child. “Go Lucy!” he said, Saturday, October 16, 2021.

The name Lucy was inspired by the 3.2 million year old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly half a century ago. The discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with the band members’ lyrics and other characters’ wise words printed on a plaque.

The spacecraft is also carrying a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments. In a pre-recorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr pays homage to his late partner John Lennon, who is credited with writing the song that inspired all of this.

“I’m so happy—Lucy will be back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love it. Anyway, if you meet someone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me,” he said.

The paleoanthropologist behind Lucy’s fossil discovery, Donald Johanson, got goosebumps watching Lucy fly off. He said he was filled with wonder at the intersection of past, present and future. “That a human ancestor lived so long drives such a promising mission to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University.

Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to target Jupiter’s so-called Trojan retinue: thousands—if not millions—of asteroids sharing the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the Sun. Some Trojan asteroids preceded Jupiter in their orbits, while others followed suit.

Regardless of their orbits, Trojans are far from the planet and are mostly dispersed far from each other. “So there’s basically no chance of Lucy being beaten by one the moment she passes her target,” said Levison of the Southwest Research Institute.

Lucy will swing past Earth next October and again in 2024 to gain enough gravitational force to reach Jupiter’s orbit. Drawing on the power of two large circular solar wings, Lucy will pursue five asteroids in a leading Trojan group in the late 2021s.

The spacecraft will then hurtle back to Earth for 2030. That will send Lucy back to the trailing Trojan cluster, where she will pass the last two targets in 2033 to break the record eight asteroids visited in one mission.

It’s a complicated, winding path that made NASA’s head of science mission, Thomas Zurbuchen, shake his head at first. “You must be kidding. Is this possible?” he remembers asking.

NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to change the asteroid’s orbit. This is to anticipate if the Earth encounters a space rock that is heading towards it.


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