NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REX attempts to land on ancient asteroid

This undated image made available by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. After almost two years circling the ancient asteroid, OSIRIS-REx will attempt to descend to the treacherous, boulder-packed surface and snatch a handful of rubble on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/CSA/York/MDA via AP) (Uncredited)

A NASA spacecraft is preparing to land on an asteroid Tuesday to collect a sample.

Spacecraft OSIRIS-REX is descending toward an asteroid named Bennu to suck up rubble as a sample for closer study back on Earth.

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OSIRIS-REX descended Tuesday toward the surface of the asteroid, which is 200 million miles away.

The spacecraft dropped out of orbit around asteroid Bennu right on time, beginning a 4 1/2-hour plunge to the rough, boulder-covered face of the ancient space rock.

It was America’s first attempt to gather samples from an asteroid, something already accomplished by Japan — twice.

Bennu’s gravity was too low for the spacecraft to land — the asteroid is just 1,670 feet (510 meters) across. As a result, Osiris-Rex has to reach out with its 11-foot (3.4-meter) robot arm while dodging boulders the size of buildings, and attempt to grab at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of Bennu.

It promised to be the most harrowing part of the mission, which began with a launch from Cape Canaveral back in 2016.

“We’ll only be kissing the surface with a short touch-and-go measured in just seconds,” said the University of Arizona’s Heather Enos, the deputy scientist for the mission.

You can read more about the mission here.

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Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.