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NASA to launch asteroid-grabbing spacecraft in 2019

Sharon Gaudin | June 20, 2014
Studying an asteroid should offer info on the birth of the universe.

NASA's proposed $17.5 billion proposed fiscal 2015 budget, released in March, sets aside money to send humans to Mars by the 2030s and to study near-Earth asteroids.

The space agency, though, is looking to launch another robotic asteroid mission -- and this one is set to launch much sooner.

NASA announced in 2011 that it's working to send a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016 in an effort to help scientists discover how life began.

The $800 million mission, which will call on a robot to collect pieces of an asteroid -- named 1999 RQ36 -- will be the first U.S. mission to carry asteroid samples back to Earth. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach the asteroid, which is about the size of five football fields, by 2020 and then return to Earth with samples in 2023.

Asteroids are leftovers formed from the cloud of gas and dust that collapsed to form our sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists calculate that they contain original planet- and star-forming material, which they hope can tell us about the conditions of our solar system's birth.

Since asteroids are thought to have changed little over time, they likely represent a snapshot of our solar system's infancy.


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