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Xtronaut game
The Xtronaut board game gives players a taste of the science, economics and politics behind planning an interplanetary robotic mission. (Credit: Xtronaut via Amazon)

Watching a couple of guys play a board game on streaming video may not sound exciting – unless those two guys also play the real-life asteroid-hunting game.

That’s precisely the situation facing Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, Wash.; and Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona professor who’s the principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission.

They’ll be battling over the playing board – and discussing developments in asteroid science and exploration – during a Google Hangout that starts at 11 a.m. PT Friday.

The game in question is Xtronaut, a simplified simulation of the mission-planning process for interplanetary robotic exploration. Lauretta’s the co-creator of the board game, which lifted off last year thanks to Kickstarter.

“We have been playing this game in the office, and can assure you it is JUST like planning a real mission,” Lewicki says on the YouTube page touting the Hangout.

Lewicki should know: During his time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, he played a part with the Spirit and Opportunity rover missions to Mars as well as Phoenix Mars Lander. Now he’s preparing for the launch of Planetary Resources’ Arkyd 6 mini-telescope later this year.

Arkyd 6 will beam back midwave infrared images of our planet, trying out technologies that are to be implemented on the company’s Ceres constellation of Earth-observing satellites as well as future Arkyd craft that will study and eventually mine asteroids.

Lauretta is getting ready for his own launch: The OSIRIS-REx probe is due to lift off on Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, marking the start of a years-long round trip to Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx will take a two-year trip to the space rock, spend another two years studying it from orbit, and stretch out its robotic arm grab at least two ounces of material from the surface in 2020. Then it will head back to Earth and drop off the sample in 2023.

“Sample return is the gift that keeps on giving,” Lauretta said this week during a pre-launch briefing. “We’re going to analyze it for our science, and we’re going to have future generations looking at these materials for decades.”

Scientists hope that the asteroid sample will lead to fresh insights about the formation of the solar system, the origins of life’s building blocks, and strategies for heading off potentially threatening asteroids.

Those scientific goals are reflected in the $800 million mission’s name, which Lauretta said is an “awesome acronym” for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.

Lauretta said OSIRIS-REx will serve as “a trailblazer for all future small-body missions,” including Planetary Resources’ asteroid-mining forays. “That’s how I look at it, as one of our gifts to the future,” he said.

So will Lewicki let Lauretta win, just to stay on his good side? Tune in and find out.

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