NASA spacecraft heads off to asteroid to bring back samples

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft is on its way to the space rock Bennu (BEHN'oo). The Osiris-Rex explorer rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday evening, just before sunset. It was the start of a seven-year quest to the big, black, unexplored asteroid. Once there,...

 
              In this Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016 photo made available by NASA, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, carrying NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, is brought to its launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission, scheduled to launch on Thursday, Sept. 8, is the first U.S. attempt to reach an asteroid return a sample to Earth for study. (Kim Shiflett/NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft is on its way to the space rock Bennu (BEHN'oo).

The Osiris-Rex explorer rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday evening, just before sunset. It was the start of a seven-year quest to the big, black, unexplored asteroid. Once there, the spacecraft will gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth.

These bite-size bits of ancient space rock — due here in 2023 if all goes well — could hold clues to the origin of life.

Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter resembling a bird. It took flight atop an Atlas V (five) rocket. Among the well-wishers: Mike Puzio, the 12-year-old North Carolina boy who won a contest to name the asteroid.

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