OSIRIS-REx, a NASA spacecraft tasked with collecting rocks and dust from a nearby asteroid named Bennu, is coming back home after almost five years away. The spacecraft, officially named Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, officially fired its engines to begin its Earthward journey on May 10. Its return trip will take two and half years.
Bennu, the asteroid the spacecraft accosted, is a 1,600-foot-wide (500-meter) hunk of rock and ice located 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. OSIRIS-REx snagged a handful of dust last October after a fairly dramatic encounter with the desolate little world. NASA was concerned that OSIRIS-REx wouldn’t be able to bring back a full sample due to leaks in the collection system. Thankfully, the samples now are headed to Earth, where they will be carefully examined by researchers.