Queen’s Brian May Contributes to NASA Mission Retrieving Largest Asteroid Sample
Yes, rock music has been part of space missions before, but it's not everyday that a rock musician actively has a role in one of the more scientific goals of a mission. It should come as no surprise that astrophysicist turned Queen rock guitar god Brian May was the one to take part in a NASA mission that helped bring the largest asteroid sample back to Earth.
“Hello NASA folks, space fans, asteroid aficionados. This is Brian May of Queen as you know probably, but also immensely proud to be a team member of OSIRIS-REx,” shared May during a clip that aired on NASA-TV.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flew by Earth on Sunday, seven years after it had been launched to collect samples from the over 4.5 billion year-old asteroid Bennu. The mission reportedly collected about 250g of rocks and dust before the sample was returned to Earth for a landing in the Utah desert.
May, who is an expert in stereoscopy (using multiple images to complete 3D mapping), used his skills to help create stereoscopic images that allowed mission leader Dante Lauretta and his team locate a safe landing site from which they could collect the samples without any damage.
“I always say you need art as well as science," May told the BBC. "It's like an artistic thing. You need to feel the terrain to know if the spaceship is likely to fall over or if it will hit this 'rock of doom' that was right on the edge of the eventual chosen site, called Nightingale. If that had happened it would have been disastrous. There were a billion dollars of American taxpayers’ money at stake."
The guitarist posted about the event on Sunday (Sept. 24), noting, "A historic event today - the landing of the capsule containing the sample of rocks from Asteroid Bennu - in the Utah Desert ! Sadly I won’t be there - we’re rehearsing a show in Wimbledon!!! But we can all share this moment by watching it in NASA TV. Fingers crossed for a safe landing - but these guys really don’t need luck - it will be a perfect manoeuvre just like all their adventures collecting the sample - adventures I was proud to be a part of. Go OSIRIS REx!!!"
The samples are likely to provide insight into the formation of the Solar System and possibly how life started on Earth years ago. The Department of Defense confirmed touch down occurred at 8:52AM local time.
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Per the BBC, the car tire-sized container had come screaming into the atmosphere over the western U.S. at more than 12km/s (27,000mph). A heatshield and parachutes slowed its descent and dropped it gently, perfectly on to restricted ground.
"This little capsule understood the assignment," said Tim Priser, the chief engineer at aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin. "It touched down like a feather."
As for his day job, Brian May will return to the stage with Queen and Adam Lambert in October for a stateside North American run in October and November. Dates can be found here.