NASA spacecraft nears asteroid hoping to learn secrets of early solar system

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is closing in on a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu after a two-year journey.

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The probe is scheduled to rendezvous with the rock Monday around noon EST. It will spend another two years orbiting and mapping the terrain on Bennu and ultimately landing on the rock to gather samples of dirt and rocks. NASA officials said if the explorer manages to collect 2,000 grams of material from the asteroid, it would rival the collection of surface material from the moon during the Apollo moon landings.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is then expected to pack the samples from Bennu into a capsule, return home with its payload in 2023, and drop the capsule into Utah's West Desert.

NASA called OSIRIS-REx “one of the most ambitious space missions ever attempted.”

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Scientists hope the asteroid reveals secrets about the history of the early solar system.

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