By Justin Worland
September 8, 2016

NASA is launching the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth for scientific study.

The mission—known as OSIRIS-REx—will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday and reach the asteroid Bennu in August 2018. The spacecraft will survey the asteroid looking for potential sites to collect a sample before touching the surface for just 5 seconds to pick up dirt and rocks. The sample is expected to return in September 2023.

The mission will provide new insight into asteroids and allow scientists a better understanding of the substances that comprise the surface. Asteroids like Bennu contain a wide variety of natural resources including water and metal. Scientists hope the research will contribute to human understanding of the early solar system.

Write to Justin Worland at justin.worland@time.com.

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