Shoemaker Makes Historic Touchdown on Asteroid Eros
Monday, Feb. 12, at 3:02 EST, NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft
traveled its last mile, cruising to the surface of asteroid
Eros at a gentle 4 mph-finally coming to rest after its five-year,
2-billion-mile journey, achieving all its science goals and
collecting 10 times more data than originally planned.
filled the Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., when
NEAR Mission Director Robert Farquhar announced, "I'm happy
to say the spacecraft is safely on the surface of Eros."
on Eros was not part of the original mission plan, but it
was decided to be a risk worth taking in pursuit of close-up,
detailed photos of the asteroid's rocky surface during the
descent. To everyone's delight, NEAR Shoemaker performed flawlessly
and transmitted richly detailed pictures until its radio link
to Earth was broken upon touchdown.
last image snapped by NEAR Shoemaker was a mere 394 feet (120
meters) from the asteroid's surface and covered a 20-foot
(6-meter) area. As the spacecraft touched down it began sending
a beacon, assuring the team that the landing had been gentle.
The signal was identified by radar science data, and about
an hour later was locked onto by NASA's Deep Space Network
antennas, which will monitor the spacecraft until Feb. 14.
Final Eros ../../../images: Range 250 meters (820 Feet)
(Click image for full size view)
Shoemaker, which spent a year in orbit around Eros, started
its final descent with an engine burn at 10:31 a.m. (EST)
that nudged the spacecraft toward Eros from about 16 miles
(26 kilometers) away. Then four braking maneuvers brought
the spacecraft to rest on the asteroid's surface in an area
just outside a saddle-shaped depression, Himeros. When it
touched down, NEAR Shoemaker became the first spacecraft ever
to land, or even attempt to land, on an asteroid. The success
was sweetened by the fact that NEAR Shoemaker was not designed
as a lander.
of NEAR Shoemaker's landing will be discussed at a press conference
at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 14. The press conference
will be telecast live on a Ku band satellite at: Telstar K5
97 degrees West Longitude Transponder 12 Downlink Frequency
11936 MHz Horizontal Polarity Audio 6.2 & 6.8. Live webcasts
will be broadcast on the Internet at http://spaceflightnow.com/
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