By Anica Padilla

LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4/AP) — After chasing and successfully touching down on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth — a Colorado-built spacecraft is headed home with the sample collected from the surface. OSIRIS-REx was designed and build by Lockheed Martin in Littleton and touched down on the asteroid Bennu in October.

(credit: NASA)

It was NASA’s first-ever asteroid sample return mission — and they collected more than 60 grams of material.

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Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which is believed to be 4.5 billion years old. It could give scientists clues as to what the solar system was like as it was formed, what chemical building blocks jumpstarted life, how organic material gets transported within the solar system, and what Mars and Venus may have looked like in the past.

(credit: NASA)

After nearly five years in space, OSIRIS-REx began its journey back to Earth on Monday. The spacecraft is about 200 million miles away, but it will have to circle the sun twice to catch up to Earth — making the journey a total of 1.4 billion miles, CBS News reported. The trip is expected to take around two-and-a-half years.

“It’s both exciting and bittersweet,” Sandy Freund, mission operations program manager of the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area, told CBS News. “I can’t wait to see what we learn from the sample when it returns to Earth. Yet, at the same time, we’ve now said goodbye to this asteroid that we’ve gotten to know so well over the past couple of years.”

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)  

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Anica Padilla