Stunning close-up views
of asteroid 433 Eros from the descending NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft get top billing
in a new movie from NASAís Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission.

The minute-long movie,
released today on the NEAR Web site at,
covers the final moments of NEARís yearlong orbit at Eros. NEAR Shoemaker made
history on Feb. 12, 2001, when the orbiter became the first spacecraft to land
and then operate on the surface of an asteroid. NASA extended the mission until
Feb. 28, 2001, so the intrepid spacecraft could gather additional data on the
21-mile-long space rock.

Imaging team member Mark
Robinson produced the movie from 64 detailed pictures NEAR Shoemaker snapped
during the last 3 miles (about 5 kilometers) of its controlled descent. Pointed
at the surface during the entire landing sequence and taking about two pictures
a minute, the digital camera pans over cracked and jagged rocks, boulder patches,
craters filled with dust and debris, and mysterious areas where the surface
appears to have collapsed. The final frame, taken 422 feet (128 meters) above
Eros just moments before touchdown, shows features the size of a golf ball.

“The movies are a great
way to see the complex surface properties on Eros,” says Robinson, a research
assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at Northwestern
University, Evanston, Ill. “Set in motion, the descent images clearly show the
asteroidís varied terrain, for example, when NEAR Shoemaker moves over boulder
patches into smoother areas just before the landing site. This was the closest
look we had at Eros and the pictures are incredibly valuable to our studies.”

NEAR image processing is
a joint project between Northwestern, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. APL
built the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft and managed the mission for NASA. NEAR Shoemaker
launched Feb. 17, 1996 &#150 the first in NASA’s Discovery Program of low-cost,
scientifically focused missions &#150 and became the first spacecraft to orbit an
asteroid on Feb. 14, 2000.

The car-sized satellite
gathered 10 times more data than originally planned and now rests silently in
Erosí southern hemisphere, nearly 197 million miles (315 million kilometers)
from Earth. Visit the NEAR Web site at
for more information.

The Applied Physics Laboratory,
a division of The Johns Hopkins University, uses innovative science and technology
to solve complex problems that present critical challenges to the nation. For
information, visit

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Phone: 240-228-7536 or 443-778-7536

Phone: 240-228-5113

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