Asteroid Mission Not Yet 'NEAR' an End
14 Feb 2001
(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Headquarters, Washington, DC
NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, the first spacecraft to touch down and operate on the surface of an asteroid, will not be immediately shut down after all.
The mission will be extended for up to 10 days to gather data from a scientific instrument that could provide unprecedented information about the surface and subsurface composition of the asteroid Eros.
Two days after touchdown, NEAR Shoemaker is still in communication with the NEAR team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD. Earlier this week, the team sent commands to NEAR and guided the robotic researcher to a 4-miles-per-hour touchdown on a rock-strewn plain on the asteroid. The spacecraft gently hit the surface at 3:02 p.m. EST, after a journey of 2 billion miles, and a full year in orbit, around the large space rock.
Yesterday, the NEAR mission operations team decided against another engine firing that could have lifted the space probe off the asteroid's surface. There were initial concerns that it might be necessary to adjust the spacecraft's orientation in order to receive telemetry from the ground. However, NEAR Shoemaker landed with a favorable orientation, and there is no problem with receiving information. Mission managers have decided it is not necessary to move the spacecraft from its resting place on the surface of Eros.
The spacecraft spent the last year in a close-orbit study of asteroid 433 Eros, a near-Earth asteroid that is currently 196 million miles from Earth. During that time it collected 10 times more data than originally planned and completed all its science goals before its descent to the asteroid.
Funding for the mission extension will come from the NEAR project.