This image shows where NEAR will attempt to touchdown on the surface of Eros. The yellow circle is the touchdown area.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA/JHUAPL (John Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
NEAR to Touchdown on Surface of Asteroid!
News story originally written on February 2, 2001
The NEAR spacecraft has been in orbit around the asteroid
Eros since Valentine's Day of last year.
It has met all of its science goals. It has been a huge success within NASA's low-cost planetary exploration program!
"With the spacecraft just about out of fuel and our science objectives met, this is a great way to end a successful mission," said NEAR Mission Director Dr. Robert Farquhar of APL. "It's all bonus science. It's never been tried before and it certainly is a complicated set of maneuvers, but at this point the only real risk is not taking one." And just what is that risk? Well, on February 12, 2001, NEAR will attempt to land on Eros! This has never been attempted before!
NEAR will be over 196 million miles from Earth when touchdown occurs. The main goal will be for NEAR to collect close-up pictures of the surface of Eros before touchdown occurs. It could actually take pictures of surface features about 4 inches across. That sure is close-up! Scientists have no idea whether or not NEAR will be functional after attempting this descent, but they hope to at least receive a signal from the spacecraft.
"The whole sequence of engine burns has to go right, or it might not be a very soft touchdown," Farquhar said. "The unknown nature of the surface makes it hard to predict what will happen to the spacecraft, especially since it wasn't designed to land. The most we can hope for is a beacon from NEAR Shoemaker that says it's still operating."
NEAR will begin its descent at 10:31 a.m. EST on February 12th. After a series of thruster firings, landing is expected just after 3 p.m. EST. Stay tuned for more news on this exciting mission!
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games
section of our online store
includes a climate change card game
and the Traveling Nitrogen game
You might also be interested in:
It was another exciting and frustrating year for the space science program. It seemed that every step forward led to one backwards. Either way, NASA led the way to a great century of discovery. Unfortunately,...more
The Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 2:19 p.m. EST, October 29th. The sky was clear and the weather was great as Discovery took 8 1/2 minutes to reach orbit for the Unitied...more
A moon was discovered orbiting the asteroid, Eugenia. This is only the second time in history that a satellite has been seen circling an asteroid. A special mirror allowed scientists to find the moon...more
Will Russia ever put the service module for the International Space Station in space? NASA officials are demanding an answer from the Russian government. The necessary service module is currently waiting...more
During a period of about two days in early May, 1998, the ACE spacecraft was immersed in plasma associated with a coronal mass ejection (CME). The SWICS instrument on ACE, which determines unambiguously...more
J.S. Maini of the Canadian Forest Service has referred to forests as the "heart and lungs of the world." Forests reduce soil erosion, maintain water quality, contribute to atmospheric humidity and cloud...more
In late April through mid-May 2002, all five naked-eye planets are visible simultaneously in the night sky! This is includes Mercury which is generally very hard to see because of its proximity to the...more