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Asteroid landing movie makes debut

August 1, 2001
Web posted at: 7:57 a.m. EDT (1157 GMT)

NEAR landed on Eros on February 12
NEAR landed on Eros on February 12  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- A movie that documents the last moments of the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid made its debut on Tuesday, revealing a distant world of jagged rocks, boulder fields and strange depressions.

The minute-long film, released by NASA, captures the daring descent of the NEAR-Shoemaker, which settled on the dusty surface of the asteroid Eros on February 12.

The automobile-sized NASA probe had orbited the deep space boulder for a year, during which time the robot ship beamed back thousands of images and mounds of invaluable data about the potato-shaped rock.

It had not been designed to land.

During its mission, NEAR-Shoemaker shot numerous movies starring Eros as the 21-mile-long (34-km-long) asteroid tumbled through its eccentric orbit. The NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) team produced the final one using 64 detailed pictures that the vessel snapped during the last 3 miles (5 km) of its descent.

  • GALLERY: The best of Eros

    Pointed at the surface as it swooped over the surface, NEAR-Shoemaker's digital camera took about two pictures a minute. The final frame was taken from a height of 422 feet (128 meters), moments before touchdown, and reveals details as small as a golf ball.

    "The movies are a great way to see the complex surface properties on Eros," said Mark Robinson, an imaging scientist with the $200 million mission. "This was the closest look we had at Eros and the pictures are incredibly valuable to our studies."

    The black region across the bottom of the final frame signals when the spacecraft, plunking on the surface, abruptly stopped transmitting the image home.

    NEAR-Shoemaker survived the image and sent back gamma-ray measurements until it expired two weeks later. It now rests silently on the southern hemisphere of Eros, nearly 197 million miles (315 million km) from Earth.

    • Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
    • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    • NASA Home Page
    • Asteroid Comet Impact Hazards
    • Near Earth Object Program

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