It’s a flurry of activity in UCF physics professor Humberto Campins’ office. He’s finishing grant applications, working on a journal article, prepping notes for a national science meeting, crafting a presentation for an event at the Orlando Science Center and getting his class assignments lined up for the semester. Oh yeah, and then there’s the launch of that NASA mission tonight.

“It’s very exciting, but a very busy time,” Campins said. “This is a historic mission and we are eager to get started.”

Campins, an international expert on asteroids, and associate professor Yan Fernandez are gearing up for the launch of the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission scheduled for 7:05 p.m. from Cape Canaveral. UCF also hosted the OSIRIS-REx Science Team meeting at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, which concluded last night.

Follow the launch live on UCF’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

For more information on the launch click here.

It’s NASA first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. A successful mission will provide scientists enough material from the asteroid’s surface to better understand how planets formed and how life began in the solar system. Data will also help scientists understand the nature of asteroids that could potentially hit Earth.

The 4,650-pound fully fueled spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket and is expected to reach the asteroid Bennu in 2018.

That’s when Campins and Fernandez will really see their workload increase. They will assist the team by analyzing data and images taken of Bennu while OSIRIS-REx orbits the asteroid. There will likely be a lot of late nights and all-nighters, Fernandez said.
They will work alongside a team of experts to review the data. Then they will make a recommendation with the most “promising sample sites” for OSIRIS-REx to collect between 2 and 70 ounces of surface material with its robotic arm. It will then store the sample in a detachable capsule that is expected to return to Earth in 2023.

“The launch of OSIRIS-REx is the beginning of a seven-year journey to return pristine samples from asteroid Bennu,” said OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure.”

Goddard Space Flight Center will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the spacecraft. A host of national experts from several universities rounds out the team.

“It’s a dream come true,” Campins said. “I’ve always been fascinated by asteroids and to be able to contribute to this mission is a milestone in the search for answers I’ve been looking for my entire career. I’m like a kid at just before Christmas. I just can’t wait”

Campins has spent his entire career chasing asteroids, comets and other celestial bodies. He conducts research at observatories around the world, including Arizona, Hawaii, Chile, France, Spain and the Vatican. In 2010 he headed the team that discovered water ice and organic molecules on the asteroid 24 Themis and later on 65 Cybele. It’s that expertise that has led him to OSIRIS-REx.

He earned degrees from the University of Kansas and the University of Arizona. As a graduate student he was named a representative to the Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space of the General Assembly of the United Nations. His research has been funded by multiple agencies the past 10 years including NASA, the National Science Foundation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Florida Space Grant Consortium.