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This day in tech: First spacecraft to land on an asteroid - February 12, 2001
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous - Shoemaker (NEAR Shoemaker), renamed after its 1996 launch in honor of planetary scientist Eugene M. Shoemaker, is a robotic space probe designed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for NASA to study the near-Earth asteroid Eros from close orbit over a period of a year. The mission succeeded in closing in with the asteroid and orbited several times around it, finally terminating by touching down on the asteroid on 12 February 2001.
The spacecraft impacted at a velocity of about 1.5 to 1.8 meters/second (3.4 to 4.0 mph). The spacecraft obtained 69 high-resolution images before touchdown, the final image showing an area 6 meters across. NEAR was not designed as a lander, but survived the low-velocity, low-gravity impact, a signal continued after the "landing" using the omni-directional low-gain antenna as a beacon. The NEAR team will not be attempting to lift off from the asteroid again. For more, see the NASA Press Release
For details of the plans for the landing, see the 31 January NASA Press Release
The target touchdown site for NEAR (yellow circle)
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