NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, the first spacecraft to
touch down and operate on the surface of an asteroid, will not
be immediately shut down after all.

The mission will be extended for up to 10 days to gather data
from a scientific instrument that could provide unprecedented
information about the surface and subsurface composition of
the asteroid Eros.

Two days after touchdown, NEAR Shoemaker is still in
communication with the NEAR team at the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD.
Earlier this week, the team sent commands to NEAR and guided
the robotic researcher to a 4-miles-per-hour touchdown on a
rock-strewn plain on the asteroid. The spacecraft gently hit
the surface at 3:02 p.m. EST, after a journey of 2 billion
miles, and a full year in orbit, around the large space rock.

Yesterday, the NEAR mission operations team decided against
another engine firing that could have lifted the space probe
off the asteroid’s surface. There were initial concerns that
it might be necessary to adjust the spacecraft’s orientation
in order to receive telemetry from the ground. However, NEAR
Shoemaker landed with a favorable orientation, and there is no
problem with receiving information. Mission managers have
decided it is not necessary to move the spacecraft from its
resting place on the surface of Eros.

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 from Earth. During that time it collected 10
times more data than originally planned and completed all its
science goals before its descent to the asteroid.

Funding for the mission extension will come from the NEAR