Hit a Target 16 Million Miles Away and Moving Fast
February 12, 2001: NEAR Shoemaker Soft Lands on Eros
See that small planet like thing out there passing Mars, that asteroid about 16 and a half million miles from earth – 70 times further than the moon, 21.4 miles long by 7 miles by 7 miles? How about we try to land on that thing?
On February 12, 2001 the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) Shoemaker soft lands on the Asteroid Eros. Wow what a shot.
Named after Gene Shoemaker an American geologist and one of the founders of the field of planetary science, the mission started in February of 1996. It would be 5 years later that NEAR Shoemaker lands on Eros.
Eros has been compared in shape to Lake Tahoe:
433 Eros is 33 km (20.5 mi) long by 13 km (8 mi) wide.
Lake Tahoe is 35 km (22 mi) long by 19 km (12 mi) wide.
Eros circles the sun in 1.76 earth years, has no air or water, and has enough gravity to hold a spacecraft in orbit. A 100 pound object on earth would weigh in at only an ounce on Eros. If you threw a rock off the surface of Eros it would escape into space.
Day time temperatures average 212 F while night time temps plunge to -238 F.
[Asteroids are minor planets, larger ones have at times been called planetoids. The term has historically been applied to any astronomical object orbiting the sun not showing the disk of a planet. Small bodies out to the orbit of Jupiter. There are millions of asteroids thought to be remnants of shattered planetesimals.]
Launched on February 17, 1996 the NEAR Shoemaker sat on the top of a Delta vehicle with 9 rockets strapped to it and blasted into space. It then spent most of its time in hibernation. After a first failed attempt to orbit the asteroid, Shoemaker inserted itself into orbit with Eros on February 14 of 2000.
After several maneuvers, flybys, and changes in orbit the spacecraft made a slow controlled decent to the surface of Eros undamaged and operational. (Artists depiction)
Last communication with Shoemaker was on February 28, 2001.