NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took pictures — and had its picture taken — as it zoomed past Earth today on its way to the asteroid Bennu.
The close encounter served as much more than a photo op: OSIRIS-REx’s gravity-assist maneuver was an essential part of its trajectory toward Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid that’s currently more than 31 million miles away.
OSIRIS-REx came as close as 10,711 miles to Earth at 9:52 a.m. PT, blazing over Antarctica at a relative speed of 19,000 mph. That’s so close that NASA had to take care to make sure the 20-foot-wide spacecraft didn’t hit any orbiting satellites.
The maneuver boosted OSIRIS-REx’s speed and shifted its course to put it on track to rendezvous with the 1,650-foot-wide asteroid in late 2018.