NASA launched its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft Sunday night to hit an asteroid that should collide with Earth and bring back a samples in 2023.
OSIRIS-REx will fly within 820 feet of the small asteroid 1999 AN10, which is about 100 feet in diameter. The spacecraft is expected to crash into the asteroid and collect samples about 20 years later.
NASA astronaut Joe Acaba snapped this photo of the launch from the International Space Station.
The spacecraft, about the size of a mini-van, is a joint effort between NASA and the French space agency, CNES.
NASA will also split the mission costs of the mission with Germany’s German Aerospace Center, DLR. The two space agencies have known about asteroid 1999 AN10 since the early 1990s. NASA studied the asteroid from low-Earth orbit, while CNES designed and built the spacecraft and took the images of the asteroid from near-Earth orbit.
The mission is expected to return about 1 ounce of iron, nickel and nickel alloy particles, about 27.5 pounds of material, to Earth. The rest of the asteroid’s materials will remain out of reach from Earth.
Scientists hope the asteroid sample will shed light on how the universe was formed, and how life arose. NASA scientists are also hoping to learn more about materials like nickel, an element that does not occur naturally on Earth, from near-Earth space.