Donald Savage

Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Mike Buckley

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD

(Phone: 240/ 228-7536)

RELEASE: 00-38

The NASA satellite conducting the first-ever close-up study
of an asteroid will be renamed to honor Dr. Eugene M. Shoemaker, a
legendary geologist who influenced decades of research on the role
of asteroids and comets in shaping the planets. The Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft, currently orbiting asteroid
433 Eros more than 145 million miles from Earth, will now be known
as NEAR Shoemaker.

“Gene Shoemaker was an inspirational, charismatic pioneer in
the field of interplanetary science,” said Dr. Carl B. Pilcher,
Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters,
Washington, DC. Pilcher announced the new name today during the
Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. “It is a
fitting tribute that we place his name on the spacecraft whose
mission will expand on all he taught us about asteroids, comets
and the origins of our solar system. ”

Shoemaker died in a 1997 car accident in the Australian
outback while on an annual study of asteroid impact craters. With
his wife and research partner, Carolyn, Shoemaker was part of the
leading comet discovery team of the past century, perhaps most
famous for finding the comet (Shoemaker-Levy 9) that broke up and
collided with Jupiter in 1994.

He was an expert on craters and the impacts that caused them.
Shoemaker’s work on the nature and origin of Meteor Crater in
Arizona in the 1960s laid the foundation for research on craters
throughout the solar system. He also established the lunar
geological time scale that allowed researchers to date the
features on the moon’s surface.

Though he never realized his dream of tapping a rock hammer
on the moon, Shoemaker taught Apollo astronauts about craters and
lunar geology before they left Earth. Last year, when NASA’s Lunar
Prospector spacecraft crashed on the Moon in an experiment at the
end of its mission, a small vial of Shoemaker’s ashes, carried
aboard the spacecraft, was scattered on the lunar surface.

Shoemaker was a key member of the 1985 working group that
first studied the NEAR mission, defining its science objectives
and designing a conceptual payload. Many of the group’s
recommended instruments were included in the actual spacecraft,
which only a month into its yearlong orbit of Eros is already
returning fascinating data on the asteroid’s surface and geology.

The first in NASA’s Discovery Program of low-cost planetary
missions, NEAR launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL, on
Feb. 17, 1996. After a four-year journey that included flybys of
Earth (Jan. 1998) and asteroids Mathilde (June 1997) and Eros
(Dec. 1998), NEAR began orbiting Eros on Feb. 14, 2000. The car-
sized spacecraft will observe the asteroid from various distances
— coming within several miles of the surface — before the
mission ends in February 2001. The Johns Hopkins University
Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, designed and built the
NEAR spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Office of Space

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EDITORS NOTE: Images and information on the NEAR mission are
available at:

Information on Eugene Shoemaker is available at: