The team that landed the first spacecraft on an asteroid was honored last night at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum with one of the museum's most distinguished awards, the Trophy for Current Achievement.
The museum presented the award for outstanding achievement in scientific or technological endeavors relating to air and space to NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission team, which conducted the most comprehensive study of an asteroid to date. Managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., the mission grabbed worldwide attention during a controlled descent to the surface of asteroid Eros on Feb. 12, 2001.
"The NEAR mission accomplished a significant number of important space firsts and it's gratifying to have the Smithsonian recognize the team with such a prestigious award," says APL's Robert W. Farquhar, NEAR mission director, who accepted the trophy. "The mission's accomplishments would not have been possible were it not for an incredible team effort by many institutions who are proud to share this honor."
The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, launched in 1996, traveled more than two billion miles before being placed in orbit around Eros in February 2000. It circled the asteroid for a year, dipping at times to within three miles (5.3 kilometers) of the potato-shaped asteroid's ends and returning more than 10 times the data expected over the program's lifetime. The mission was full of surprises including a soft landing by the spacecraft, which was designed only as an orbiter, and the craft's ability to return valuable information from the asteroid's surface for two weeks after touchdown.
Data obtained during the mission is still providing an abundance of information to asteroid and comet researchers. NEAR Shoemaker, the 55th spacecraft built by the Applied Physics Laboratory, remains on the surface of Eros in hibernation.
The NEAR team shared the spotlight last night with aviator/astronaut John Glenn, who was honored with the Institution's Lifetime Achievement Award.
For more details on the NEAR mission visit Web site http://near.jhuapl.edu The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For information, visit www.jhuapl.edu