With samples from an asteroid stored inside, a NASA spacecraft has fired up its engines and started the long journey back to Earth on Monday.
The journey back home for the robotic prospector, namely Osiris-Rex, would take nearly two years.
The robotic prospector arrived at asteroid Bennu in 2018 and spent about two years close to and around it, before gathering rubble from the surface last fall.
Dante Lauretta, the principal scientist at the University of Arizona, estimates that the spacecraft has between half a pound to one pound of bite-size asteroid samples. Anyhow, the collected payload easily surpasses the pre-set target of almost 2 ounces.
It would be the largest cosmic move for the United States since the Apollo moon rocks mission. While the space agency has returned samples of solar wind and comet dust, this is the very first time that it has searched for asteroid pieces.
Scientists hope to discover some of the secrets of the solar system from the samples collected last October from rough, dark, and carbon-rich surface of asteroid Bennu. This asteroid is approximately 1,600 feet wide and around 4.5 billion years old.
The asteroid, considered to be a piece broken off of a bigger asteroid, is thought to hold the conserved building blocks of the solar system.
The valuable samples would be placed at a novel lab that is currently under construction at Johnson Space Center of NASA, located in Houston. This lab is already home to numerous pounds of lunar material gathered by the 12 Apollo moonwalkers from 1969 to 1972.
In the meantime, scheduled for launch in October, a spacecraft known as Lucy would fly past asteroids swarms out near Jupiter. Whereas a spacecraft named Dart would take off in November in an effort to redirect an asteroid as a crucial part of a planetary protection test. While, in 2022, the Psyche spacecraft would blast off for a metallic, odd steroid carrying the same name. However, these missions will not involve any return of samples.