Shoemaker at Eros-The Adventure Concludes
Deep Space Network antennas brought down the last Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission data tonight, bringing
to a close the first mission to extensively study an asteroid.
Throughout its year-long orbit and its landing on Eros, NEAR
has delighted astronomy enthusiasts and scientists alike.
mission has been successful far beyond what was in the original
mission plan," said NEAR Mission Director Dr. Robert Farquhar
of APL. "We got the first ../../../images of a C-class asteroid when
we added a flyby of asteroid Mathilde in 1997; we added two
low altitude series of passes over the ends of Eros this past
October and January that gave us spectacular ../../../images from 2.7
kilometers above the surface; and we achieved the first landing
of a spacecraft on an asteroid on Feb. 12. All this at no
extra cost. When you talk about 'faster, cheaper, better,'
this is what 'better' means."
Feb. 12, NEAR Shoemaker made a gentle 3-point landing on the
tips of two solar panels and the bottom edge of the spacecraft
body. But the mission wasn't finished yet. Much to the amazement
of the mission team and millions of observers around the world
who were following the descent, after touchdown the craft
was still operating and sending a signal back to Earth.
at the chance to get "bonus science" from the spacecraft,
which had already collected 10 times more data than originally
planned, the mission team asked for and got a 10-day extension
and then four more days of DSN antenna time, enabling NEAR
Shoemaker to send back data through Feb. 28. The extension
was granted by NASA to allow the gamma-ray spectrometer to
collect data from an ideal vantage point about four inches
from the surface. The spectrometer team quickly redesigned
software and uploaded it to the spacecraft so they could begin
collecting elemental composition readings.
results were spectacular. "This is the first gamma-ray experiment
that has ever been done on the surface of a body other than
Earth," said Dr. Jacob Trombka, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center, who heads the gamma-ray spectrometer team. "In fact,
we can say it's the first feasibility study of how to design
an instrument to be used on a rover that could select samples
from the surface, look for the presence of water, or map the
surface for the purpose of future mining."
will take months to scrutinize the data the team retrieved
after the spacecraft landed," Trombka said. "What we're looking
for is information that will help us more precisely classify
Eros and determine the relationship between the asteroid and
meteorites that have fallen to Earth."
Scientist Dr. Andrew Cheng of APL said now scientists can
begin to study the data, including the more than 160,000 detailed
../../../images taken by the spacecraft. "We solved mysteries, we unveiled
more mysteries. Now we're sharing the amazing amount of data
that we collected with scientists all over the world, to sort
through and debate and hopefully to help us discover facts
about Eros and our solar system that no one knows today."
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