A NASA spacecraft speeds toward a rendezvous with an asteroid.
NASA's first asteroid sampling mission launched into space on September 8, 2016, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early Earth and other planetary bodies—and an uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses. In 2018, OSIRIS-REx will approach Bennu and begin an intricate dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying Bennu in preparation for sample collection. In 2020, the spacecraft will perform a daring maneuver in which its 11-foot arm will reach out and perform a five-second "high-five" to stir up surface material. At least 2 ounces of small rocks and dust will be collected and placed in a sample return container that will be returned to Earth for study in 2023. Watch the video to learn more.