/ Modified sep 15, 2016 3:44 p.m.

OSIRIS-REx, Cruising, Sends First Photos of Journey

University of Arizona mission's spacecraft is healthy as it speeds at more than 12K mph.

OSIRIS-REx cruising hero
Courtesy of NASA.gov

The University of Arizona’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has opened its eyes and sent back images of stars as it begins its seven-year journey.

Four days after blasting off from Cape Canaveral on Sept. 8, the spacecraft's star tracker, a navigational tool, took pictures of stars to confirm its attitude, or the direction it is pointing.

NASA and the UA-based mission said in a press release the spacecraft was about 2 million miles from Earth as of Thursday morning. It’s traveling more than 12,000 miles an hour on its way to circle the sun before coming back and passing Earth in a year.

Next week, spacecraft controllers will check the scientific instruments on board, including the UA’s cameras; two spectrometers, including one built by Arizona State University; a laser altimeter; and an X-ray imaging system. That testing will last for about a week.

OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. spacecraft destined to visit an asteroid. When it arrives, it will study the asteroid Bennu, sweep up a sample and return it to Earth, due back in 2023.

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