NASA successfully launched a space probe bound for the asteroid Bennu on Thursday, September 8 at 7:05pm EST.
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 (195 million km) 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 (58-m) 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 (3-m) robotic arm to poke Bennu and capture just about 2 ounces (57 grams) of dust.
After a two-year journey, this sample collection will take just 5 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.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
More from Business Insider: