The OSIRIS-Rex mission blasted off from Florida in September 2016 and will finally reach the asteroid called Bennu today after a gruelling journey of over a billion miles. The spacecraft will collect samples from the space rock which could pave the way for an asteroid mining industry, with some of them worth trillions of dollars because of their minerals which are scarce on Earth such as platinum. It will also give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth.
Experts say there is a one in 2,500 chance this asteroid could come crashing into our planet in 160 years time, but this depends on the Yarkovsky effect.
The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push from heat.
Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 500 metres in length.
NASA fears that the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 200 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.
The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth.
Finally, it will help unlock the secrets of the solar system.
Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-Rex said: “The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system.
“When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system.”
OSIRIS-Rex will stay on the asteroid for two years and then will return to Earth in a historic first.
NASA said in a statement: “Analysing a sample from Bennu will help planetary scientists better understand the role asteroids may have played in delivering life-forming compounds to Earth.
“We know from having studied Bennu through Earth- and space-based telescopes that it is a carbonaceous, or carbon-rich, asteroid. Carbon is the hinge upon which organic molecules hang.
“Bennu is likely rich in organic molecules, which are made of chains of carbon bonded with atoms of oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements in a chemical recipe that makes all known living things.
“Besides carbon, Bennu also might have another component important to life: water, which is trapped in the minerals that make up the asteroid.”