Status Report

Close Pass Successful, NEAR Shoemaker Moves Up

By SpaceRef Editor
October 26, 2000
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Wrapping up a busy day that included a historic low pass over asteroid Eros,
the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft fired its thrusters one more time and headed
for a higher orbit.

At 1:40 p.m. EDT on Oct. 26, the three-minute engine burn lifted the
spacecraft from a low-altitude orbit — during which NEAR Shoemaker buzzed a
mere three miles (5.3 kilometers) over one of Eros’ ends — toward a more
stable position 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the center of the asteroid.
The burn was the longest since NEAR Shoemaker began orbiting Eros eight
months ago.

“Had we stayed there, the low orbit could have brought the spacecraft
dangerously close to the asteroid,” says Dr. Robert Farquhar, NEAR mission
director. “When you make a close pass like that the gravity field affects
the spacecraft a lot more than it would otherwise, so we helped it along
with a maneuver.”

Meanwhile, the NEAR team has just started to sift through the close-ups NEAR
Shoemaker’s digital camera snapped during the flyover.

“We’ve never seen the surface of an asteroid or planetary satellite at this
high resolution without actually landing,” says Dr. Scott Murchie, NEAR
imaging team member. “What strikes me most about the pictures is the
diversity in the sizes and shapes of the rocks. When we analyze these
high-resolution images in more detail, we’ll learn something about the
processes that have shaped the surface of Eros.”

SpaceRef staff editor.