at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
(APL), Laurel, Md.
designed and built a spacecraft called Near Earth Asteroid
Rendezvous (NEAR) Shoemaker. The spacecraft was sent into
orbit around an asteroid called 433 Eros.
spacecraft was launched Feb. 17, 1996, from Cape Canaveral,
Fla. It went into orbit around Eros on Feb. 14, 2000. At the
end of the mission, it landed on Eros on Feb. 12, 2001.
mission was to study what asteroid Eros is made of and to
learn more about the many asteroids, comets and meteors that
come close to Earth. Scientists also hope to learn more about
how the planets were formed.
NEAR Shoemaker is the first spacecraft
ever to orbit an asteroid and the first to land on one. NEAR
was the first mission in NASA's Discovery Program to study
the planets and other objects in the solar system.
Asteroids are small bodies
without atmospheres that orbit the sun but are too small to
be called planets.
Asteroid 433 Eros is the
shape of a potato and measures 8 by 8 by 21 miles. Its gravity
is so weak that a 100-pound person would weigh only 1 ounce.
If you threw a baseball faster than 22 miles per hour from
its surface, the ball would escape into space and never come
During its 5-year mission,
the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft traveled 2 billion miles and
took 160,000 pictures of Eros.
NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft orbits
asteroid 433 Eros.