NASA's Dawn, locked in orbit around Vesta, has sent back the first ever close-up image of the asteroid (photos below).

The photos reveal a heavily-cratered gray surface.

So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta's history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons, said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dawn eased into the orbit around Vesta on late Friday Eastern Time. From then until July 2012, it'll orbit the asteroid and record data. Dawn is positioned about 9,000 miles away from Vesta in its orbit.

Scientists are interested in studying Vesta because it's believed to be a remnant of an embryonic planet. By doing so, they hope to gain more insights into planets like the earth.

We can't wait for Dawn to peel back the layers of time and reveal the early history of our solar system, said Russell.

Another purpose of Dawn's orbit around Vesta is to gather information for the eventual visit of astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, as President Barack Obama directed NASA to do.

By mid-2030s, Obama wants NASA to send astronauts to orbit Mars. After that, he wants them to land on Mars.

Below are the close-up photos of Vesta.