Director of astronomy lab program comments on NASA Dawn mission

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Last week, NASA announced that it was reinstating the Dawn mission, a robotic exploration of two major asteroids, after canceling it in early March because of technical problems and cost overruns. The mission, named because it was designed to study objects dating from the dawn of the solar system, involves sending a probe to Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will use an electric ion propulsion system and orbit multiple objects.

The director of the planetarium and astronomy lab at the University of North Texas says he is pleased that NASA is reinstating the funding for a July 2007 launch of mission to two large asteroids. The university has a meteorite from one of the asteroids.

"Most of the work has already been done for the project; the preparations were in place, and so was the systems and geology work," says Ron DiIulio. "The scientific community is glad to have this program back."

The Dawn project was originally budgeted to cost $373 million. NASA has agreed to spend an extra $73 million to complete the project.

DiIulio says he is excited about the potential of the Dawn project, noting that the mission will increase the knowledge of the universe.

"This mission will help us to understand these two asteroids. We know what makes up the surface of these asteroids, but the Dawn mission will let us learn about what makes up their cores," he says.

Scientists believe Ceres and Vesta were formed about 4.5 billion years ago in different parts of the solar system. They think the asteroids may have clues on the formation of the solar system.

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