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AUCKLAND Philippe Sandler Jersey , New Zealand, March 18 (Xinhua) -- China's team Dongfeng is relying on the spirit of its crew, though two of them young and inexperienced, to edge it into the lead in the most arduous leg of Volvo Ocean Race round-the-world competition.
The six sailing boats left Auckland Wednesday after a three-day delay caused by Tropical Cyclone Pam, which is still expected to cause problems as it dies out east of New Zealand.
The teams face a three-week crossing of the Southern Ocean -- with strong winds, deep waves and freezing temperatures -- and a rounding of the storm-ravaged Cape Horn before reaching Itajai in Brazil.
Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier said the team was aware of its inexperience, with only three of the eight sailing crew having sailed Cape Horn and neither of the two on-board Chinese crew having race experience at 40 knots.
"We are prepared for this one for sure, but also we have rookies on board. They have never sailed in storm conditions and it will be their first time, so, sure, we are ready, but compared to the other boats we have less experience on board," Caudrelier told Xinhua before leaving.
Dongfeng is currently in the second place and narrowly trailing team Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, but with the Auckland-Itajai leg being the longest of the race, it could make all the difference to the scoreboard.
The two on-board Chinese crew members, Liu Xue, referred to as Black, who celebrated his 22nd birthday in Auckland, and Yang Jiru, 24, were quick learners, said the French skipper.
"We work a lot and the Chinese sailors are fantastic students and learn very quickly," Caudrelier said.
"This race is all about teamwork and we have a very good team, even if we have less experience on board. We have rookies on board, but spirit is the key, I think."
His advice to the Chinese crew members was: "Love what you do."
"Passion is important and then you can work a lot, and that's what they have done."
Black admitted that he and his team mate Yang still have a lot to learn from those more experienced sailors if they want to pursue sailing as a career and take more crucial posts in the race.
This fifth leg of the race will be followed by four more with the race expected to end in Sweden's Gothenburg in late June.
They arrived in Auckland late last month after crossing the Pacific from Sanya in China's southern island province of Hainan.
The first NASA explorer of its kind took off on a seven-year quest Thursday, chasing after a big, black, unexplored asteroid to gather a few handfuls of gravel for return to Earth.
These bite-size bits of ancient space rock from asteroid Bennu could hold clues to the origin of life, not just on our planet but potentially elsewhere in the solar system.
Thousands gathered to witness the evening launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter that looks something like a bird with its solar wings. The spacecraft took flight atop an Atlas V rocket, which soared a little before sunset on the mission, a U.S. first.
Victory was declared an hour later; launch controllers shook hands and embraced as the spacecraft shot out of Earth's orbit, bound for Bennu.
"Tonight is a night for celebration. We are on our way to an asteroid," said NASA's chief scientist, Ellen Stofan. After all, "we've just done something amazing."
"We got everything just exactly perfect," added Osiris-Rex chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. "It was an amazing evening for me and for this team."
It will take two years for Osiris-Rex to reach Bennu (BEHN'-oo), which is circling the sun in a slightly wider orbit than Earth's. The boxy spacecraft will actually go into orbit around the asteroid, seeking out the best spot before going in for a quick bite.
Round trip, the SUV-sized spacecraft will travel more than 4 billion miles (6 ? billion kilometers) by mission's end in 2023.
NASA has gone after comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never anything from an asteroid. It promises to be the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo moon rocks.
The roundish rock — an estimated 1,600-plus feet (500 meters) across and taller than the Empire State Building — is believed to harbor carbon dating back 4.5 billion years, to the beginning of our solar system. That makes it a time capsule and a scientific prize.
"We will make discoveries on this mission that we have not anticipated. It's exciting!" said Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," chief executive officer of the Planetary Society.
The launch came 50 years to the day that the first "Star Trek" episode aired on TV. NASA launch commentator Mike Curie referenced the anniversary, urging the spacecraft at liftoff "to boldly go" to Bennu and back. This is yet another example of NASA "turning science fiction into science fact," Stofan noted.
Osiris-Rex may lead to asteroid-mining missions, according to scientists, and could help protect the planet from menacing space rocks.
Japan already has visited an asteroid and returned some specks (the mission didn't go quite as planned), and is chasing another space rock for even more samples. Osiris-Rex's bounty, however, should surpass that; Lauretta and his team want at least 60 grams of dust and gravel, or 2 ounces' worth when the big day comes in 2020. Ground tests have yielded eight times that in a single scoop, so hopes are high for four to five handfuls.
Osiris-Rex will hover like a hummingbird over Bennu, according to Lauretta, as the spacecraft's 10-foot (3-meter) mechanical arm touches down like a pogo stick on the surface for three to five seconds. Thrusters will shoot out nitrogen gas to stir up the surface, and the loose particles will be sucked up into the device. Spacecraft managers call it "the gentle high five." They get just three shots at this, before the nitrogen gas runs out and the effort abandoned.
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