‘Like diamonds in the sky’: NASA’s Lucy mission launches to study asteroids

NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has blasted off from Earth and is on its way to study the Trojan asteroids in our solar system. Lucy launched at 5:24 a.m. ET (2:24 a.m. PT) on Saturday, October 16, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

“Lucy embodies NASA’s enduring quest to push out into the cosmos for the sake of exploration and science, to better understand the universe and our place within it,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “I can’t wait to see what mysteries the mission uncovers!”

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2 minute and 30-second exposure photograph.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard is seen in this 2-minute and 30-second exposure photograph as it launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Lucy mission is named after the human fossilized skeleton, “Lucy,” whose discovery in the 1970s helped to unravel the story of human evolution. The researchers on NASA’s Lucy mission hope that it can do the same for our understanding of the evolution of the solar system. The Trojan asteroids, which sit in the orbit of Jupiter, are thought to be remnants from the formation of the outer planets, dating back to the dawn of the solar system.

Following its launch and its ascent through Earth’s atmosphere, Lucy separated from its rocket and unfurled its solar arrays. These arrays, each 24 feet wide, will provide power to the spacecraft’s systems on its journey and once it arrives at its first asteroid destination. The spacecraft sent a signal back to Earth at 6:40 a.m. ET (3:40 a.m. PT) and confirmed that it is traveling at 67,000 mph, heading toward the sun before passing back by Earth in 2022 for a gravity assist to send it on its way to the Trojans.

“We started working on the Lucy mission concept early in 2014, so this launch has been long in the making,” said Lucy’s principal investigator, Hal Levison of the Southwest Research Institute, who Digital Trends previously interviewed about the mission. “It will still be several years before we get to the first Trojan asteroid, but these objects are worth the wait and all the effort because of their immense scientific value. They are like diamonds in the sky.”

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