This Day in Tech History

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Hey Bruce (Willis), how about real life “Armageddon”

Near_Shoemaker

February 12, 2001:

First Spacecraft to Land on an Asteroid

NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft touches down in the “saddle” region of 433 Eros, becoming the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid.

The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous – Shoemaker (NEAR Shoemaker), renamed after its 1996 launch in honor of planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker, was 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 it several times, finally terminating by touching down on the asteroid on 12 February 2001.

IDL TIFF file

The primary goal of the mission was to study the near Earth asteroid 433 Eros from orbit. Eros is an S-type asteroid approximately 13 × 13 × 33 km in size, the second largest near-Earth asteroid. Initially the orbit was circular with a radius of 200 km. The radius of the orbit was brought down in stages to a 50 × 50 km orbit on 30 April 2000 and decreased to 35 × 35 km on July 14, 2000. The orbit was raised over succeeding months to a 200 × 200 km orbit and then slowly decreased and altered to a 35 × 35 km retrograde orbit on December 13, 2000. The mission ended with a touchdown in the “saddle” region of Eros on February 12, 2001.

Picture from NEAR Fly-By

Picture from NEAR Fly-By

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting on January 24, 2001 the spacecraft began a series of close passes (5 * to 6 km) to the surface and on January 28 passed 2 to 3 km from the asteroid. The spacecraft then made a slow controlled descent to the surface of Eros ending with a touchdown just to the south of the saddle-shaped feature Himeros on February 12, 2001 at approximately 20:01 UT (3:01 p.m. EST). To the surprise of the controllers, the spacecraft was undamaged and operational after the landing at an estimated speed of 1.5 to 1.8 meters per second (thus becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on an asteroid). After receiving an extension of antenna time on the Deep Space Network, the spacecraft’s gamma-ray spectrometer was reprogrammed to collect data on Eros’ composition from a vantage point about four inches from the surface where it was ten times more sensitive than when it was used in orbit.  *5 km = aprox 3.1 miles

Eros asteroid from approximately 250 meters altitude (area in image is roughly 12 meters across). This image was taken during NEAR's descent to the surface of the asteroid.

Eros asteroid from approximately 250 meters altitude (area in image is roughly 12 meters across). This image was taken during NEAR’s descent to the surface of the asteroid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At 7 p.m. EST on February 28, 2001 the last data signals were received from NEAR Shoemaker before it was shut down. A final attempt to communicate with the spacecraft on December 10, 2002 was unsuccessful. This was likely due to the extreme -279 °F (-173 °C, 100 K) conditions the probe experienced while on Eros.

NEARtrajectory NEARCraft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Armageddon final scene

 

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