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April 9, 1996
For Immediate Release

Applied Physics Laboratory Honors NEAR Team for Underbudget Development and Launch

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) has designed, built, and launched the first spacecraft in NASA's new Discovery program ahead of time and under budget. On Monday, April 15, at 1:30 p.m., the Laboratory will present an oversize check representing a cost savings of $3.6 million to NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin at the Laboratory's Kossiakoff Center in Laurel, Md., during a celebration honoring the APL Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) team.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who served as Chair of the Senate subcommittee for NASA appropriations when the Discovery Program for "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions was approved by Congress in October 1993, will be at the April 15 event to comment on the NEAR mission and the uniqueness of an underbudget interplanetary program.

The Discovery Program marks a new, cost-conscious era in planetary exploration. NASA guidelines for Discovery missions require that the missions be completed within a 36-month development cycle and a maximum $150 million budget for spacecraft development and launch. NEAR, the first NASA planetary mission to be conducted by a non-NASA space center, was launched Feb. 17 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, after just 26 months of development. Although the mission was awarded to APL based on an estimated $112 million cost (in FY92 dollars), the actual cost turned out to be approximately $108.4 million: a $3.6 million savings for NASA. Estimates are that the final cost for the NEAR mission will be less than one-third of the least expensive U.S. planetary mission to date.

The spacecraft is now being operated from a control center at the Applied Physics Laboratory. The mission is managed by the Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. NEAR is the 55th spacecraft built and launched by JHU/APL, which has been building spacecraft, on short schedules, under budget for more than a quarter century. "We were a natural for the Discovery Program," says Dr. Stamatios Krimigis, Head of the Laboratory's Space Department. "With NEAR we've shown once again it's possible to design a mission to cost, without increasing risk, while maximizing science capability, all in record time."

NEAR will rendezvous in early 1999 with the asteroid 433 Eros and begin a yearlong orbit of the asteroid. The mission will be the first long-term, close-up look at an asteroid's surface composition and physical properties.

For more information please contact the JHU/APL Office of Communications and Public Affairs by phone at 240-228-5113 or 443-778-5113. The JHU/APL NEAR homepage address on the Internet is NASA's Discovery Program homepage is located at Photographs of the NEAR spacecraft and artist's concepts of the rendezvous at Eros are available, as is a seven-minute professional animation of the NEAR mission and B-roll footage of spacecraft development and testing.