NASA scientists are putting the finishing touches on a spacecraft designed to rendezvous with Asteroid Bennu in 2018 to find clues about the origins of life.
STORY: In this room at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA scientists are putting the finishing touches on the OSIRIS-Rex - a solar powered robotic spacecraft that is scheduled to launch next month. It's mission is to map and retrieve samples from an asteroid named Bennu. If successful, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how life on Earth formed. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DANTE LAURETTA, PRINCIPLE INVESTIGATOR OF OSIRIS-REX MISSION AND PROFESSOR OF PLANETARY SCIENCE AND COSMOCHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, SAYING: "We are days away from incapsulating into our rocket fairing and lifting this spacecraft on to the Atlas V vehicle and beginning the journey to Bennu and back." Back in the year 2023, after a 7 year roundtrip journey. Similar asteroids crashing into early Earth are believed to have provided the organic materials and water needed for life to form. Bennu is one of the most documented asteroids in the solar system. But so far those measurements have been made from a distance. Getting up close will be a game-changer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. JASON DWORKIN, PROJECT SCIENTIST, SAYING: "To understand the chemistry down to the molecular level we have to get a sample back and take them to the best labs in this country and around the world now and for generations to come." The spacecraft wont land on Bennu but instead extend a robotic arm to make contact with the surface of the asteroid for just 5 seconds, enough time to collect a small sample. The mission will also give astronomers new insights into how heat from the sun influences the movement of space rocks - data critical in protecting Earth from potential asteroid collisions in the future. Thousands of near-Earth asteroids orbit the Earth. NASA scientists have calculated that Bennu has a 1/2500 chance in colliding with Earth in the year 2185.