Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Asteroid data still coming in

February 15, 2001

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— The NEAR spacecraft, which surprised experts by landing so softly on asteroid Eros that it is still working, has been given a reprieve.

NASA is adding 10 extra days to its mission so scientists can use instruments to probe the surface of the distant space rock.

Radio communication with NEAR, which on Monday became the first manmade object to land on an asteroid, was scheduled to end on Wednesday, but NASA agreed to continue monitoring the craft with the Deep Space Network for at least 10 more days.

NEAR rests on the surface of Eros, 196 million miles away, like a tripod, leaning against the outer edges of two solar panels and on the edge of its base.

However, the craft's best antenna is not pointed at Earth, and mission controllers said they can receive only about 10 bits a second of data from a low-gain, backup antenna. From the high-gain antenna data is about 2,600 times faster.

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