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OSIRIS is both a mythological figure and an acronym. "O" stands for the scientific theme, origins. "SI" is for spectral interpretation, or taking images of the NEO at wavelengths that will reveal its composition. "RI," or resource identification, is surveying the asteroid for such useful resources as water and metals. "S" stands for security, learning how to predict the detailed motion of Earth-approaching asteroids.
"OSIRIS of Egyptian mythology is the god of life and fertility, the god who taught Egyptians agriculture," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS Deputy Principal Investigator, also with the University of Arizona. "There's an analogy to the proposed 21st century space mission. We're looking at the kind of object that we think brought life to Earth; that is, objects that seeded Earth with early biomolecules, the precursors of life."
Returning a sample to Earth will allow for a much more comprehensive study of the NEO, according to the team. "The equipment in my lab is small, merely desk-sized, but that's not easy to fly. Let alone the enormous synchrotrons, which dwarf cars and are impossible to fly," said Jason Dworkin, also of NASA Goddard, who is the Deputy Project Scientist and a Co-Investigator on OSIRIS. "Furthermore, there are also a lot of steps to prepare a sample. That would all have to be automated and work perfectly on a spacecraft."