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NEAR craft changes course for upcoming asteroid rendezvous

NEAR and Eros
Artist's conception of NEAR at Eros  

February 3, 2000
Web posted at: 4:10 PM EST (2110 GMT)

LAUREL, Maryland (CNN) -- The first spacecraft expected to orbit an asteroid performed a key breaking and trajectory change maneuver Thursday, mission operators said. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous vehicle is now only about 5,000 miles (8,000 km) away from Eros, which it should reach as planned on February 14.

NEAR's thrusters fired at noon EST for 90 seconds and eased the spacecraft from 43 mph to 18 mph relative to Eros. The maneuver moved NEAR's trajectory about 60 miles (100 km) closer to its target.

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Star gazing

The operation was a modified version of the rendezvous burn scheduled for February 2, which was canceled after NEAR went into "safe" hold early Wednesday morning.

"We were able to come back right away and devise a turnaround burn," said NEAR Mission Director Bob Farquhar. "It really shows the resiliency of the mission plans."

Another burn on February 8 will bump NEAR's approach speed to 22 mph and put it back on its original track to the asteroid.

A flyby planned for February 13 remains on schedule. It will put NEAR directly between the sun and Eros, affording a unique opportunity to map the asteroid's minerals under optimal lighting.

Data from NEAR could help answer questions about the origin and composition of asteroids, comets and the solar system, according to the mission managers at the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

The spacecraft has measured Eros at 21 miles long by 8 miles wide and 8 miles deep. Comprised of silicate rock, the asteroid rolls through its eccentric orbit like a tumbling potato.

NEAR was launched in February 1996 as a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Eros was named by German astronomer Gustav Witt, who discovered the asteroid in 1898.



RELATED STORIES:
Scientists slash estimate of near-Earth asteroids
January 12, 2000
Scientists reduce odds of Earth-asteroid collision
July 28, 1999
Spacecraft set for risky asteroid flyby
July 28, 1999
Nanorover bound for asteroid
June 28, 1999

RELATED SITE:
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission

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