Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous - Shoemaker (NEAR)

Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous - Shoemaker (NEAR)

Courtesy of NASA

http://science.nasa.gov/missions/near



Overview
This is the first NASA mission to travel to and orbit an asteroid (433 Eros). NEAR Shoemaker studied the asteroid for approximately 1 year, then landed on the surface and transmitted the first images from an asteroid.


Launch
February 17, 1996


Arrival
(orbit) February 14, 2000; (touchdown) February 12, 2001


End of Mission
(last communication) February 28, 2001


Goals
Collect data on the properties, composition, surface features, interior, and magnetic field of Eros. Study surface properties, interactions with solar wind, possible currents of dust or gas, and asteroid spin. Look for clues about the formation of Earth and other planets.


Findings
This was the first-ever mission to orbit an asteroid and the first to touch down on the surface of an asteroid. It took 160,000 images of Eros revealing more than 100,000 craters and about 1 million house-sized (or bigger) boulders. The photos showed a layer of debris resulting from a long history of impacts. Eros is not a “rubble pile” of loosely bound pieces, but rather a solid object. Asteroids like Eros are linked to meteorite samples found on Earth. At mission’s end, scientists attempted to land NEAR Shoemaker on the asteroid, something the spacecraft had not been designed to do. On descent, it took dozens of detailed pictures. These photos were the highest resolution images ever of an asteroid. Some of the photos were from as close as 120 meters (394 feet) showing features as small as a golf ball. The spacecraft touched down at a gentle 4 mph. For two weeks it continued operating and communicating gamma-ray spectrometer data about the composition on and just below the asteroid’s surface.