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Lulu's Log: Bennu Asteroid



This is Lulu's Log, stardate December 2, 2018, where we explore matters of space, the stars and the universe.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's T-minus one day before NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at its intended target, an asteroid named Bennu. There, the spacecraft will spend a year and a half collecting mineral-rich samples to return to Earth and shed light on the origins of our solar system. One person who is very excited for this event is Michael Puzio. He's a high-school freshman from Greensboro, N.C. Back when he was 8 years old and OSIRIS-REx was still on Earth...

MICHAEL PUZIO: There was an ad that said name an asteroid if you're a kid. And so my dad bugged me to look up the name Osiris.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Osiris, of course, is an Egyptian god of the dead.

PUZIO: I saw that he had been killed by his brother. And he returned to Earth in the form of Bennu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bennu is depicted as a heron in old, Egyptian drawings. And Puzio thought that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft looked like the bird with its long neck and wings. So Puzio, along with 8,000 other students from all over the world, sent entries to The Planetary Society, which held a contest. And after a year, the group chose Bennu to replace the old name of Asteroid 1999RQ36.

PUZIO: When my dad told me I had won, I freaked out because I'd forgotten about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In 2016, Puzio was invited by The Planetary Society to watch the official launch of OSIRIS-REx on its way to Bennu.

PUZIO: That was awesome. When that countdown went off, Bill Nye told me, the first thing you're going to do is you're going to see the rocket. Then you're going to hear the rocket. And then you're going to feel the rocket. And I didn't know what he meant until we felt the building shake. And that was really, really cool.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tomorrow at around noon Eastern Time, OSIRIS-REx and Bennu will finally meet. Puzio says he doesn't plan on giving up on the stars. And what he'd like more than anything is...

PUZIO: ...A giant increase to the federal spending for NASA. I'm hoping to see myself in the astronaut corps.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Something only time and space and our government can tell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.