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NEAR Shoemaker Ready to Gather Data on Surface of Eros

The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft has been commanded to begin collecting data from the surface of 433 Eros.

NASA announced on Feb. 14 it was extending the NEAR mission for up to 10 days to gather data from the spacecraft's gamma-ray spectrometer, a scientific instrument that could provide unprecedented information about the surface and subsurface composition of Eros. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., have configured the instrument to begin collecting and recording this information.

NEAR Mission Operations Manager Robert Nelson said the team is also sending commands to prevent the rest of the spacecraft from sending data to its onboard recorder, since the only reliable telemetry link is through NEAR Shoemaker's low-gain antenna. "Now that we have landed, collection and recovery of critical gamma-ray data is our primary objective," he said.

NEAR Shoemaker's historic Feb. 12 touchdown on Eros turned out to be a mission planner's dream - providing NEAR team members with more scientific and engineering information than they ever expected from their carefully designed series of descent maneuvers. The spacecraft gently landed at 3:01:52 p.m. EST, ending a journey of more than 2 billion miles (3.2 billion kilometers) and a full year in orbit around the large space rock.