US NASA spacecraft heads off to asteroid to bring back samples in 2023

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 7:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 7:22am

A NASA spacecraft is on its way to the space rock Bennu (BEHN’oo).

The Osiris-Rex explorer rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday evening, just before sunset. It was the start of a seven-year quest to the big, black, unexplored asteroid. Once there, the spacecraft will gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth.

These bite-size bits of ancient space rock — due here in 2023 if all goes well — could hold clues to the origin of life.

Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter resembling a bird. It took flight atop an Atlas V (five) rocket. Among the well-wishers: Mike Puzio, the 12-year-old North Carolina boy who won a contest to name the asteroid.