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NASA Successfully Launches Its Asteroid-Chasing Spacecraft

NASA’s ambitious OSIRIS-REx mission to collect samples of an ancient asteroid and bring them back to Earth recently went off without a hitch. The spacecraft began atop an Atlas 5 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida and is set to parachute a capsule in seven years with the asteroid’s dust into a desert in Utah. Scientists hope that samples from the asteroid, named Bennu, will provide clues about the early solar system and molecules responsible for creating life on Earth. “You’ll be glad to know we got everything just exactly perfect,” stated Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator.

Two of those years will be spent in the inner solar system getting OSIRIS-REx to match Bennu’s speed and direction. In 2018, the spacecraft will catch up to the asteroid and give scientists time to decide where to collect the samples, eventually leaving Bennu by 2021 and dropping off the capsule to Earth in 2023.