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On 20 October, a Nasa spacecraft called Osiris-Rex will make its first attempt to collect a sample from the Bennu asteroid, a mission that will take between five to 10 seconds.

Sky News reports that it is hoped the spacecraft will be able to collect 60g worth of dirt and gravel from the surface of the boulder-strewn asteroid.

The Bennu asteroid is thought to have been formed over 4,5 billion years ago, which means it may comprise of minerals that contain molecules that were present at the time life was formed on Earth.

Van-sized Osiris-Rex has been circling the asteroid for almost two years, and once it receives the instructions from controllers back on Earth - who are separated from the craft by an 18-minute communication lag - it will begin a four-hour detour from its orbit above the asteroid’s surface.

The craft will deploy an 11ft long arm, which will reach out to touch the surface in the hope it can grab a sample. Scientists are hoping that the sample will contain information about how life is formed.

Should the first attempt fail, Osiris-Rex can try again, but it will be 2023 until the samples arrive back on Earth, once the craft completes a four-year journey home.

NASA's deputy project manager Mike Moreau spoke about how complex the Bennu mission is: "For some perspective, the next time you park your car in front of your house or in front of a coffee shop and walk inside, think about the challenge of navigating Osiris-Rex into one of these spots from 200 million miles away.”

It will be a historic mission for Nasa as it will be their first sample collection from an asteroid's surface. Japan is the only country in the world to have completed such a mission.

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