NEAR Mission News
July 31, 2001

Approach to an Asteroid
Latest Movie Features Final Footage from NEAR Shoemaker

Stunning close-up views of asteroid 433 Eros from the descending NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft get top billing in a new movie from the NEAR mission.

The minute-long movie, released today on the NEAR Web site at, covers the final moments of NEAR's 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 asteroid's 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. NEAR Shoemaker launched Feb. 17, 1996 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 Eros' southern hemisphere, nearly 197 million miles (315 million kilometers) from Earth.


The first in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, scientifically focused planetary missions, NEAR conducted a close-up, yearlong study of asteroid 433 Eros. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft and managed the NEAR mission for NASA. For the latest news and images visit the NEAR Web site at For more on NASA's Discovery Program visit