NASA to attempt asteroid landing in February
Illustration of the NEAR-Shoemaker probe
(CNN) -- A deep space robot ship will conclude its scientific
mission by deliberately crash-landing on an asteroid next month, according to NASA.
NEAR-Shoemaker will attempt the risky touchdown on asteroid
Eros on February 12, two days shy of its first anniversary in
orbit around the tumbling asteroid.
But the probe is designed to study Eros, not land.
"If we got lucky, the thing could survive and get a signal saying
it landed. But the chances are less than 1 percent. Too many
things have to go right," said Bob Farquhar, NEAR (Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous) mission director.
| GALLERY |
| MESSAGE BOARD|
NEAR scientists are planning the risky descent to gain an
unprecedented close-up view of the oddly shaped asteroid.
NEAR-Shoemaker could take pictures with resolutions of 10 cm before
smacking into a sunlit site near the South Pole.
"Our primary purpose is not to land. Our primary purpose is to
get to a very low altitude to take high resolution pictures,"
said Farquhar, who manages NEAR from the Johns Hopkins University
Applied Research Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Scientists hope the landing will yield some extreme close-up images of the asteroid's surface. This image was obtained last February at a range of 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers)
NEAR-Shoemaker has traveled 2 billion miles since it left Earth
five years ago. It has conducted an intense geologic study since
it began orbiting Eros 11 months ago. The probe has already
beamed back some 150,000 images of the Manhattan-sized rock.
Even if NASA managers wanted to, they could not extend the
mission because the spacecraft's fuel and the project's budget
are nearly spent.
"We have fulfilled all the main goals of the mission. Now we are
trying to get a little bonus science," Farquhar said.
Spacecraft gets closest look yet at asteroid
July 18, 2000
Summer lets orbiter see asteroid Eros in new light
June 27, 2000
Asteroid Eros resembles 'building blocks' of Earth
May 31, 2000
NASA unveils quartet of asteroid movies
April 28, 2000
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
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