NASA to launch near-Earth asteroid mission

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NASA to launch near-Earth asteroid mission

WASHINGTON: (APP) US space agency NASA is poised Thursday to launch its groundbreaking first mission to a near-Earth asteroid to collect samples that could shed light on the dawn of the solar system.

Scientists hope the seven-year, $800 million mission will reveal something about the origins of the Bennu asteroid and of life itself.

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The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to blast off Thursday at 7:05 pm (2305 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"The primary objective of the mission is to bring back 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of pristine carbon-rich material from the surface of Bennu," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the mission and a professor of planetary science at the University of Arizona.

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"We expect these samples will contain organic molecules from the early solar system that may give us information and clues to the origin of life."

The Lockheed Martin-made spacecraft will be carried aboard an Atlas V rocket made by United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed and Boeing.