Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Little Spacecraft That Could

As has been pointed out recently, Hayabusa is not the first probe to land on an asteroid - merely the first probe designed to do so.

Renamed in memory of the late planetary scientist, Gene Shoemaker, NEAR Shoemaker orbited Eros for a full year, giving scientists a bounty of data that included more than 100,000 close-up images. And then, last Monday, came the bonus. "I think the team thought, we've been there long enough, let's try something new," Santo said. "Let's have some fun. Let's see if we can land this thing." Many on the project were skeptical that NEAR would survive its landing attempt. But as Coughlin said, "We'd thought it thorough, and knew everything had to go right. And it did go right."


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