Brian May appeared this evening on Channel 4 News – Sunday 24 September… approx 6PM, talking today’s successful NASA OSIRIS-Rex mission
Osiris Rex: NASA asteroid mission could reveal secrets of life
– E&OE – rough transcript.
CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Well I’m joined now by the legendary Queen guitarist and astrophysicist, Sir Brian May. He helped plan the mission and has co-authored a book about the asteroid and the OSIRIS-Rex project with its leader, Dante Loretta. So Brian May, it’s quite an extraordinary story. billions of miles of of travel. How big a moment is it for you that this dust has now arrived back on Earth?
BRIAN MAY: I got pretty emotional watching it. I was wishing I was in Utah but we’re here in the Inglorious Wimbledon, rehearsing for a big Queen tour in the States so I couldn’t actually get to Utah, but yes I was very very moved. You know this has been a long journey of course even longer for Dante Loretta who’s the boss of the whole project, the chief, but yeah, I mean there’s a lot of me in there and you know you very kindly said I played a crucial role. I played a small role but the role was to try and make sure that the the spacecraft was safe as it collected that sample because, if it had fallen into the rubble,nothing would have got back to Earth, which would have been a bit of a tragedy after spending billions of dollars on the whole project.
CH4: I want to come back to your role in this in just a second but I mean, what do you hope with your Astrophysics hat on rather than your guitar hat on, of course, what do you hope that we can learn from this dust that’s been gathered?
BRIAN: Sell the greatest thing would be if we could find the seeds of life itself. That’s always the dream and there is hope of that because of course we get stoned through the atmosphere every day coming from outer space they’re called meteorites but they’re all burned up by the time they get to the surface of the Earth and they get contaminated by the air. These samples are pristine and some of them are incredibly delicate. They’re sort of very friable like a like a sort of crunchy bar or something, you know, so they would never get through [to] the Earth’s surface. The fact that this magical box has managed to get them back to Earth intact is very significant. We can examine them in … and this is something we’ve never actually seen before on the Earth’s surface. So it’s possible we could find, sorry go on, go on. It’s possible we could find – well it’s possible we could find – I mean the ultimate dream I suppose would be to find DNA[?] you know, the smallest building blocks of life but there are many stages in between. If we found, which could indicate that life did in fact come from outer space. I mean it used to sound like a bit of an extravagant claim when Fred Hoyle proposed this thing. He called it “Panspermia” Maybe life came from outer space but now people are taking it much more seriously because actually asteroids have brought all the air and water that we see around us plus all of the elements that we use – the gold and silver. So it’s possible that they brought life as well.
CH4: You role in it you said, you know, to make sure that the dust could be collected safely it was as I understand it was producing stereo images that were then beamed back to Earth to work out where exactly the dust could be gathered from is that right?
BRIAN: Yeah and stereoscopic imaging has been my passion for a long time because it gives you such an incredible feeling of being there. IT gives you an intuitive idea of what the terrain’s like. So this all began for me when I sent some of our stereo images that we’d made from the data that had come back already from the spacecraft as it was orbiting Bennu, so I put some of these stereos together with my wonderful collaborator, Claudia Manzoni. We sent them to Dante who’s the Chief Scientific Officer of the project, if you like, and he was amazed because they were looking for a safe place to land and it was much more difficult than they’d anticipated. They thought they were going to land on a solid body like the Moon and they could just bump down take the sample and go away. What in fact they found was a rubble pile, which is not a term of abuse. It’s an actual scientific designation now, It’s a pile of rubble very loosely held together by gravity so there was a real risk that the spacecraft may land and topple over. We had to find a safe spot. So stereoscopic Imaging suddenly gave them a nice intuitive view of the possible landing spots.
CH4: And just briefly. I mean, you’ve described in this book you’ve co-authored about the mission, asteroids are the prime bringers of life but of course they, there it is, but of course Bennu is the most dangerous asteroid, because it could in theory impact with Earth sometime in the next century, couldn’t it, wiping us all out?
BRIAN: That’s right, yes. The irony isn’t it asteroids being the bringer of life and also possibly the extinguisher of life. Yeah it probably wouldn’t extinguish life it’s not quite big enough to do that but it would make a terrible mess if it collided with Earth, so obviously the the hope is that we will be able to track its future path much more accurately thanks to this visit and avoid such a thing happening. It’s actually not that far in the future. It’s only a couple of hundred years’ time that it will come very very close to the Earth, yea, and after that nobody can predict it because it’s a many body problem which can’t be solved so it may impact us and. you know, deflecting it is not as easy as it might seem.
CH4: Well, I hope it’s not another one bites the dust then, Savannah. Thank you very much for joining us. I’ll let you get back to your rehearsals,