Asteroid samples tucked into capsule for return to Earth

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A NASA spacecraft more than 200 million miles away has placed asteroid samples in a capsule to return to Earth after losing some of its precious loot, scientists said Thursday.
Air traffic controllers pushed ahead with the crucial operation after some of the debris collected was released into space last week.
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft collected pebbles and other parts of the asteroid Bennu on October 20, briefly touched the surface with its robotic arm and sucked up everything that was there. So much was collected - an estimated value of hundreds of grams - that stones became wedged on the rim of the container, causing some of the samples to escape.
What's left won't leave Bennu's neighborhood until March, when the asteroid and Earth are properly aligned. It will be 2023 - seven years after Osiris-Rex was fired from Cape Canaveral - before the samples get here.
This is the first US mission to investigate asteroid samples. Japan has done it twice on other space rocks and is expecting its latest batch to arrive in December.
The sun-orbiting Bennu, rich in carbon, is believed to contain the preserved building blocks of the solar system. Scientists said the remains could explain how the planets in our solar system formed billions of years ago and how life on Earth came about. The samples can also help improve our chances when a doomsday rock hits us.
Bennu - a black, rounded stone larger than New York's Empire State Building - could get dangerously close to Earth by the end of the next decade. The chance of a strike is 1 in 2,700. The good news is that packing your punch doesn't wipe your home planet out.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science is supported by the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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