The Rosetta space probe is communicating with the European Space Agency.  It will start collecting samples in November.  Rosetta is nearing a comet 500 million miles from Earth.  Physics and astronomy professor Dr. Patricia Reiff says this is a very important space exploration mission...

“Bringing back samples is such a much more scientifically useful thing than just remote sensing,” Reiff explains, “because we can put to bear some of our very best detectors here on earth.”

The spacecraft will land on the comet near Jupiter later this year.  The trip from Earth has taken 10 years, so far.  Houston could have a role in examining the samples taken.

“I assume, though I haven't been able to get a confirmation of that yet,” he says, “that at least part of the material will come back to the extra materials lab here at Johnson Space Center.”