Contact: Nancy Neal-Jones
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA announces asteroid naming contest for students
WASHINGTON -- Students worldwide have an opportunity to name an
asteroid from which an upcoming NASA mission will return the first
samples to Earth.
Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission is called the
Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx). Samples
returned from the primitive surface of the near-Earth asteroid
currently called (101955) 1999 RQ36 could hold clues to the origin of
the solar system and organic molecules that may have seeded life on
Earth. NASA also is planning a crewed mission to an asteroid by 2025.
A closer scientific study of asteroids will provide context and help
inform this mission.
"Because the samples returned by the mission will be available for
study for future generations, it is possible the person who names the
asteroid will grow up to study the regolith we return to Earth," said
Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The competition is open to students under age 18 from anywhere in the
world. Each contestant can submit one name, up to 16 characters long.
Entries must include a short explanation and rationale for the name.
Submissions must be made by an adult on behalf of the student. The
contest deadline is Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
The contest is a partnership with The Planetary Society in Pasadena,
Calif.; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Lincoln
Laboratory in Lexington; and the University of Arizona in Tucson.
A panel will review proposed asteroid names. First prize will be
awarded to the student who recommends a name that is approved by the
International Astronomical Union Committee for Small-Body
"Our mission will be focused on this asteroid for more than a decade,"
said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the mission at the
University of Arizona. "We look forward to having a name that is
easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36."
The asteroid was discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid
Research (LINEAR) survey at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. LINEAR is part
of NASA's Near Earth Observation Program in Washington, which detects
and catalogs near-Earth asteroids and comets. The asteroid has an
average diameter of approximately one-third of a mile (500 meters).
"We are excited to have discovered the minor planet that will be
visited by the OSIRIS-REx mission and to be able to engage students
around the world to suggest a name for 1999 RQ36," said Grant Stokes,
head of the Aerospace Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and
principal investigator for the LINEAR program.
The asteroid received its designation of (101955) 1999 RQ36 from the
Minor Planet Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The center assigns an initial
alphanumeric designation to any newly discovered asteroid once
certain criteria are met to determine its orbit.
"Asteroids are just cool and 1999 RQ36 deserves a cool name!" said
Bill Nye, chief executive officer for The Planetary Society.
"Engaging kids around the world in a naming contest will get them
tuned in to asteroids and asteroid science."
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will provide overall mission
management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver will build the spacecraft.
OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages New
Frontiers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
To review contest rules and guidelines, visit:
To see a video explanation about the contest, visit:
For information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: