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NASA successfully launches nearly US$1 billion mission to distant asteroid

Scientists expect probe to bring dust sample back to earth in 2023

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 8:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 12:55pm

NASA successfully launched a space probe bound for the asteroid Bennu Thursday, September 8 at 7:05 p.m. ET.

OSIRIS-REx, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification-Regolith Explorer, should reach the near-Earth asteroid by 2018. "Near" is a relative term here, since Bennu is about 121 million miles away.

NASA scientists are hoping the nearly US$1 billion mission will help them unravel how life began on Earth, how the solar system formed, and how to protect our planet from stray asteroids like Bennu.

The 190-foot tall Atlas V rocket launched right on time in perfect weather conditions from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday, bound for Bennu:

Once OSIRIS-REx reaches the asteroid is when the real nail-biting part of the mission begins.

It would be too tricky to land on the asteroid, so the space probe will reach out its 10-foot robotic arm to poke Bennu and capture just about 2 ounces of dust. After a two year journey, this sample collection will take just five seconds.

OSIRIS-REx will store the sample for its return trip to Earth. In 2023, just the container holding the sample will re-enter the atmosphere and fall down to Earth, aided by a parachute. NASA expects it to land in Utah, and scientists can begin studying the sample.

This launch occurred exactly a week after SpaceX's planned launch of a satellite for Facebook exploded on the launch pad. Luckily, the explosion was at a location down the road from NASA's launch pad for the asteroid mission, so the agency didn't face any delays.

Here's the full video of the launch:

NASA also put together this pretty epic trailer about OSIRIS-REx if you want to learn more about the mission:

See Also:
NASA risking nearly US$1 billion to suck up 2.1 ounces of dirty asteroid
NASA's next mission is collecting 'scientific treasure' 
SpaceX and NASA release full statements about Thursday's rocket explosion