A day after its gentle touchdown on the surface of an asteroid - a deep-space first - the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft is still communicating with the NEAR team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD.
Mission operators picked up a single frame of telemetry from NEAR Shoemaker's low-gain antenna about 6 hours after the spacecraft's near-perfect landing on Eros, the 21-mile-long asteroid the craft had orbited for the past year. This information is helping the team assess the overall health and performance of the spacecraft, as team members evaluate ways they could gather additional telemetry and data from the craft. A decision on how to do that could be reached as early as later today.
NEAR Shoemaker touched town on Eros yesterday at 3:02:10 EST, cruising to the asteroid's surface at less than 4 mph. Cheers and congratulations filled the Mission Operations Center at APL, which built the spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA, when NEAR Mission Director Robert Farquhar announced, "I'm happy to say the spacecraft is safely on the surface of Eros."
The last image snapped by NEAR Shoemaker was only 394 feet (120 meters) from the asteroid's surface and covered a 20-foot (6-meter) area. NEAR Shoemaker continued to send a signal to Earth, assuring the team that it had landed gently. The signal was identified by radar science data, and about an hour later was locked onto by NASA's Deep Space Network antennas, which continue to monitor the spacecraft 196 million miles from Earth.