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In 1991 the Galileo spacecraft photographed the asteroid, Gaspra. This picture shows the asteroid in false color. Gaspra circles the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
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NASA/JPL

Japan And U.S. Join Together for Asteroid Expedition
News story originally written on June 20, 1997

The first asteroid collection mission has been set. Japan and the United States will put joint efforts into the MUSES-C mission to be launched in January 2002 from Kagoshima Space Center, Japan. This will allow the spacecraft to arrive at the NEREUS asteroid in September 2003.

Nereus is a small asteroid approximately one mile in diameter. It was discovered in 1982. At its closest point to the Sun, its orbit takes it just inside the orbit of the Earth.

The MUSES-C spacecraft contains a miniature robotic rover that will conduct surface measurements of the rocky asteroid. The rover weighs less than 2.2 pounds. It is to date the smallest ever flown in space. Asteroid samples will also be taken during the mission and will be returned in January 2006 by a parachute-borne recovery capsule.

This mission is extremely important. If successful, it will grant Earth-bound scientists first-hand information about the materials that helped form the inner, rocky planets more than four billion years ago. Isotopic measurements of the asteroid samples may even unlock information about cosmological beginnings.

Dr. Jurgen Rahe, director of Solar System Exploration at NASA headquarters expressed excitement about the mission by saying, "This ambitious mission is an opportunity for two spacefaring nations to combine their expertise and achieve something truly fantastic."

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