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University of Arizona to help with asteroid exploration

PHOENIX — The White House wants Congress to approve a nearly $18 billion budget for space exploration. Scientists at the University of Arizona are taking the lead in that mission.

Dante Lauretta, the mission’s main investigator and faculty member at Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, said they’re building the spacecraft they’ll use to go to space in 2016.

“Survey that asteroid extensively, ultimately send the spacecraft to the surface, grab a sample and then bring that sample back to earth,” Lauretta said.

Lauretta said the asteroid, called the RQ36, is over 4.5 billion years old. He said there’s a chance it could collide with earth.

“We want to understand its orbit, where it’s going to be in the future, what it’s made out of and use that information to inform any kind of deflection mission that might be needed,” Lauretta said.