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NASA spacecraft enters orbit around asteroid, sets records

The spacecraft's goal is to grab gravel samples and return to Earth in 2023.
Credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images
In this handout photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifts off on from Space Launch Complex 41 on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

LAUREL, Md. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft has gone into orbit around an ancient asteroid, setting a pair of records.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft entered orbit Monday around the asteroid Bennu, 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It's the smallest celestial body ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. Bennu is just 1,600 feet (500 meters) across.

The spacecraft's laps are barely a mile (1.6 kilometers) above the asteroid's surface, another record.

Osiris-Rex arrived at Bennu in early December and flew in formation with it until the latest maneuver. The goal is to grab gravel samples in 2020 for return to Earth in 2023.

The New Year's Eve milestone occurred just hours before another NASA explorer, New Horizons, was set to fly past an icy space rock beyond Pluto.