NASA is sending a robotic spacecraft to collect material from an asteroid and return it to Earth.
In September 2016, NASA will launch the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which will travel to a near-Earth asteroid to obtain a pristine sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The target, called Bennu, is a primitive asteroid thought to contain molecules that may have been the precursors to life on our planet. When it arrives at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx will spend a year surveying the asteroid with a suite of scientific instruments. The data that's collected will allow scientists to create detailed maps that show the relative abundance of minerals and other materials across Bennu’s surface. Once a site suitable for sampling is identified, the spacecraft will slowly approach the asteroid and use a device attached to a mechanical arm to extract at least 2 ounces and up to 4.4 pounds of surface material. The sample from Bennu will be delivered to Earth in 2023. Watch the video to learn more.