Today’s the Day for Space Probe to Land on Asteroid

From Reuters

After a year of circling and taking pictures, the robotic NEAR Shoemaker space probe is set to touch down on asteroid Eros today, the first time any craft has tried to land on a tumbling space rock.

NEAR Shoemaker--short for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and in honor of the late astronomer Gene Shoemaker--is scheduled to begin maneuvers around 7:30 a.m. PST to take the craft out of its orbital path around Eros and send it down to the rock’s surface.

After that, there is no turning back; the craft will hit the asteroid. What designers hope is that the craft will go through a series of four additional thruster-firings to slow it down enough for a soft landing, with a speed ranging from 2 to 7 mph.


If all goes as planned, NEAR will be taking images as it edges closer to Eros and sending them back to Earth, as it has since it first started orbiting the asteroid on Valentine’s Day 2000. It takes about 17.5 minutes for the pictures to get from the spacecraft to Earth.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has already rated this mission a success for the data it has collected about Eros, which has the potential to collide with Earth in 1.5 million years or so.