ESA spacecraft set for flyby of Steins asteroid

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Scientists at the European Space Agency are preparing for the first fly-by of an asteroid past their deep-space explorer.

The explorer, called Rosetta, is on a mission to solve the birth of the solar system.

It's set to rendezvous with the Steins asteroid just before 3 p.m. Eastern time today some 250 million miles away from Earth. The close encounter will take place at a distance of just less than 500 miles.

The spacecraft was launched in March of 2005.

Rosetta will be taking images and measurements of the irregularly shaped asteroid. The data will be analyzed and unveiled to the world tomorrow.

The project's mission manager says knowledge of asteroids and comets is a "big step" toward understanding the origin of planets.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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