CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – NASA is going after an asteroid this week like never before. It's launching a spacecraft to the exotic black rock named Bennu, vacuuming up handfuls of gravel from the surface, and then in a grand finale, delivering the pay dirt all the way back to Earth. The mission will take seven years, from Thursday night's planned liftoff from Cape Canaveral to the return of the asteroid samples in 2023, and cover an incredible 4 billion miles (6½ billion km) through space. It promises to be the biggest cosmic bounty since the Apollo moon rocks, hand-picked and delivered by astronauts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. NASA has already brought back comet dust and specks of solar wind.
FLORIDA – NASA celebrated a key triumph Tuesday as its 1.1 billion Juno spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around Jupiter on a mission to probe the origins of the solar system. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California erupted in cheers as the solar observatory entered its aimed-for orbit around the biggest planet in our cosmic neighborhood at 11:53 p.m. We conquered Jupiter," said Scott Bolton, NASA's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "It is almost like a dream coming true." Juno launched five years ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida and has traveled 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion km) since then.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA/PARIS – Astronomers searching for life beyond our solar system may need to look no farther than a little, feeble nearby star. A Belgian-led team reported Monday that it's discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star less than 40 light-years away. It's the first time planets have been found around this type of star -- and it opens up new, rich territory in the search for extraterrestrial life. Because this star is so close and so faint, astronomers can study the atmospheres of these three temperate exoplanets and, eventually, hunt for signs of possible life. The Hubble Space Telescope will join in next week.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – The first NASA explorer of its kind took off on a seven-year quest Thursday, chasing after a big, black, unexplored asteroid to gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth. These bite-size bits of ancient space rock from asteroid Bennu could hold clues to the origin of life, not just on our planet but potentially elsewhere in the solar system. Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter that looks something like a bird with its solar wings. The spacecraft took flight atop an Atlas V rocket, which soared a little before sunset on the mission, a U.S. first. "It's a dream come true.
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – NASA's yearlong spaceman says even after 2½ months back on Earth, his feet are still sore. Retired astronaut Scott Kelly spoke to NASA employees Wednesday from the agency's Washington headquarters about his historic mission at the International Space Station. Kelly says when he landed in Kazakhstan in March, he may have looked good, but didn't feel that way. He says he's a good actor and gave an Oscar-worthy performance because he didn't want to look worse than the two Russians who returned with him. Back home in Houston, he had burning skin, rashes and flu-like symptoms.