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In Brief:

NEAR probe reaches prime scientific orbit

May 1, 2000
Web posted at: 5:22 p.m. EDT (2122 GMT)

LAUREL, Maryland -- NEAR Shoemaker has settled into an orbit 50 km (31 miles) from the asteroid Eros, its closest approach yet and the ideal distance to train its scientific instruments on the pockmarked space rock, mission scientists said.

The NASA ship entered the circular orbit Sunday after completing one of its longest engine burns to date, a more than two-minute burst to correct its course after it descended toward the asteroid from an orbit of 100 km (62 miles).

The position adjustment thruster firing is the sixth since the spacecraft began orbiting Eros on February 14. NEAR Shoemaker will remain in its new orbit for two months, using its imager to get the closest view yet of the slowly tumbling asteroid.

The instruments onboard NEAR were designed for optimum use at the current orbital distance. The April 30 burn left NEAR Shoemaker traveling at seven miles per hour, a reduction of three miles per hour from its previous speed, said NEAR researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Research Lab in Laurel, Maryland.


Stardust ends first period of interstellar dust collecting

PASADENA, California -- A spacecraft designed to gather and return to Earth samples of interstellar debris concluded its first stage of dust collecting on Monday, mission scientists said.

The Stardust robot ship was to stow its dust collector Monday. During its two-month deployment, the waffle-shaped instrument trapped dust from a particle stream that flows into the solar system.

The microscopic debris contains heavy chemical elements that originated in stars, which scientists hope can offer clues about the formation of Earth and life.

The collector will resume its work in 2002 when Stardust researchers plan another period of interstellar dust gathering. The instrument will be deployed again in early 2004 to gather comet dust samples when Stardust flies by Comet Wild-2.

Once the samples of both interstellar dust and comet dust are tucked safely inside the aerogel collector, it will be retracted into the sample return capsule. Launched in 1999, the probe is scheduled to return to Earth in 2006. The $200 million mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.


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