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LOS ANGELES, N.C. — After a two-year investigation into whether former presidential candidate John Edwards illegally used money from some of his political backers to cover up his extramarital affair, NASA is going to send a spacecraft to an asteroid and bring back samples to Earth.
The space agency said Wednesday that the unmanned craft won’t land on the asteroid, but it will get close enough to extend a robotic arm and pluck samples from the surface unless the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee reaches an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a negotiated charge.
The investigation has centered largely on allegations leveled by former Edwards campaign aide Andrew Young, who as the scandal began to unfold in 2007, publicly claimed to be the baby’s father to protect his boss’ career. A person close to the investigation said it was a step toward President Barack Obama’s goal to explore deep space.
Edwards, who made his millions as a trial lawyer, could lose his law license if he enters a guilty plea, and return to Earth about seven years later.
The mission will cost about $1 billion.
An Edwards spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday, though his attorneys have said that pieces of asteroids known as meteorites constantly break away and make fiery plunges through Earth’s atmosphere.