HomeNews & MediaPress ReleasesPress Release 
12 February 2001
For Immediate Release

NEAR Shoemaker Makes Historic Touchdown on Asteroid Eros

Today, at 3:01:52 EST, NASA's NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft traveled its last mile, cruising to the surface of asteroid Eros at a gentle 4 mph (1.9 meters per second) - finally coming to rest after its 2-billion-mile journey.

Cheers and congratulations filled the Mission Operations Center at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., which built the spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA, when NEAR Mission Director Robert Farquhar announced, "I'm happy to say the spacecraft is safely on the surface of Eros."

The last image snapped by NEAR Shoemaker was a mere 394 feet (120 meters) from the asteroid's surface and covered a 20-foot (6-meter) area. As NEAR Shoemaker touched down, it began sending a beacon, assuring the team that the small spacecraft had landed gently. The signal was identified by radar science data, and about an hour later was locked onto by NASA's Deep Space Network antennas, which will monitor the spacecraft until Feb. 14.

NEAR Shoemaker's final descent started with an engine burn at 10:31 a.m. (EST) that nudged the spacecraft toward Eros from about 16 miles (26 kilometers) away. Then four braking maneuvers brought the spacecraft to rest on the asteroid's surface in an area just outside a saddle-shaped depression, Himeros. When it touched down, NEAR Shoemaker became the first spacecraft ever to land, or even attempt to land on an asteroid. The success was sweetened by the fact that NEAR Shoemaker was not designed as a lander.

The spacecraft spent the last year in a close-orbit study of asteroid 433 Eros, a near-Earth asteroid that is currently 196 million miles (316 million kilometers) from Earth. During that time it collected 10 times more data than originally planned and completed all its science goals before attempting its descent to the asteroid.

Details of NEAR Shoemaker's landing will be discussed at a post-landing press conference that will be held at APL's Kossiakoff Center at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 14.

Panelists will be:

  • Dr. Jay Bergstralh, Acting Director, Solar System Exploration, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.
  • Robert Farquhar, NEAR Mission Director, APL
  • Bobby Williams, Navigation, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
  • Joseph Veverka, Imaging Team Leader, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Thomas Coughlin, NEAR Project Manager

The press conference will be telecast live on a Ku band satellite at: Telstar K5 97 degrees West Longitude Transponder 12 Downlink Frequency 11936 MHz Horizontal Polarity Audio 6.2 & 6.8

Media wishing to follow the press conference on the Internet can contact NASA Headquarters (202-358-1727) or APL Public Affairs (240-228-5113) for access instructions and passwords. To register for the press conference visit the NEAR Web site at http://near.jhuapl.edu and go to News Center -Upcoming Events. Images are also available on the Web site.


Media contact:

JHU Applied Physics Laboratory:
Helen Worth
Laurel, MD 20723
Phone: 240-228-5113
Michael Buckley
Laurel, MD 20723
Phone: 240-228-7536