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NASA chasing down asteroid to scoop up, bring back samples

A NASA engineer says asteroid is best way to build Death Star.
Elena Duvemay | Getty Images

NASA is going after an asteroid this week like never before.

It's launching a spacecraft to the exotic black rock named Bennu (BEN-oo). Once there, the spacecraft will vacuum up handfuls of gravel from the asteroid's surface, and then in a grand finale, deliver the pay dirt all the way back to Earth.

The mission will take seven years, beginning with Thursday night's planned launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA's robotic asteroid hunter is named Osiris-Rex. If all goes well, it will scoop up handfuls of gravel from asteroid Bennu in 2020. Those samples would be delivered to Earth in 2023.

It promises to be the biggest cosmic bounty since the Apollo moon rocks collected by astronauts in the late 1960s to early 1970s.