NASA's "asteroid hunter" spacecraft has returned the first images since it was reactivated this August after more than two years of inactivity. The new images were intended as a test series, to ensure properly functioning equipment, but one shot also shows a previously detected asteroid called "Holga," which is currently orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
The spacecraft, officially named Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) is part of NASA's recent push towards identifying, capturing and relocating asteroids. If all goes according to plan, the agency will put a human astronaut on an asteroid by 2025, which would open the door towards more ambitious asteroid mining schemes from private-sector spacecompanies. In the near-term, NASA will settle for simply spotting an asteroid they've never seen before. NEOWISE's principal investigator Amy Mainzer says they'll start processing the data and looking for new rocks in the coming months, hopefully giving the agency a sense of where to go next. "The spacecraft is in excellent health," Mainzer said in a statement, "and the new images look just as good as they were before hibernation."
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