NASA launches its Lucy spacecraft to study the Jupiter Trojan asteroids

NASA's Lucy space probe successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday. This marks the start of a 12-year mission that will study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids.
At 5:34 AM ET, the uncrewed spacecraft took off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. At 6:40 AM ET, Lucy sent its first signal from its antenna to NASA's Deep Space Network. Scientists believe that Trojan asteroids orbiting the Sun on the same path of Jupiter may have clues to the formation and evolution of the solar system. NASA's first ever single-spacecraft mission to investigate so many asteroids was this mission, according to the agency.

Lucy was named after the 1974 Ethiopian fossilized human skull that was discovered. This discovery provided important insights into human evolution. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was the Beatles' song that Lucy the Fossil got her name. It was being played at the exact spot where she was discovered by excavators. NASA claims Lucy, the spacecraft from NASA will offer insights into our evolution on a planet-scale just like her fossil counterpart.

Lucy's complicated path will take her three times back to Earth for gravity assistance. Lucy will first orbit the Sun, then return to Earth for a gravity assistance next year. This will propel the craft's trajectory beyond Mars orbit. In 2024, Lucy will return to Earth for a gravity assist. This will propel the craft towards the Donaldjohanson Asteroid in 2025. After that Lucy will travel toward the Trojan Asteroids arriving in 2027. After four fly-bys targeted, Lucy will return to Earth in 2031 for a third gravity assistance, which will propel the craft toward the Trojans in 2033.

The Lucy mission concept was first developed in 2014. This launch took a long time to get ready, Hal Levison (SwRI principal investigator for Lucy) stated in a statement. Although it will be many years before we reach the first Trojan asteroid in space, these objects have immense scientific value and are well worth the wait. They are like diamonds in space.