History of NEAR

Click on image above to see the launch movie
On February 17, 1996, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Mission was launched on a Delta II rocket to take the first ever close up look at an asteroid, 433 Eros. NEAR was the first mission of NASA’s Discovery Program. Since NEAR, the Discovery Program's idea of "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions has expanded with the launch of the Mars Pathfinder, Lunar Prospector, and many more. To study Eros, NEAR was equipped with a Multi-Spectral Imager, NEAR Infrared Spectrometer, X-Ray/Gamma-Ray Spectrometer, Laser Rangefinder, Magnetometer, and a radio science experiment.

Click on image above to see the Mathilde flyby movie
After leaving the Earth's gravity the NEAR spacecraft flew within 753 miles of the asteroid 253 Mathilde in June of 1997. Before NEAR's encounter with Eros, this was the closest a spacecraft had ever been to an asteroid. The image to the left is a mosaic of Mathilde taken during the flyby. C-type asteroids, like Mathilde, make up 75% of all known asteroids. They are generally dark in color and found in the outer part of the asteroid belt.

During the following month, NEAR had its first deep space maneuver in which it fired its engines to adjust the orbit so that the NEAR spacecraft would make a close approach to Earth. In doing so, the spacecraft took longer to get to Eros, but used a lot less fuel than if going there directly.
Earth Flyby Movie
Click on the image to see the Earth and Moon from NEAR's perspective as it flew by for a gravitational assist.
In January of 1998, NEAR flew by Earth to get a gravitational assist that would place NEAR in a direct path to Eros. As NEAR approached Eros, the spacecraft tried to burn the engines to slow down so that it would not pass by Eros. The burn was automatically aborted, and the spacecraft started to tumble. In doing so, the spacecraft lost communication for almost a day until it finally recovered and corrected the tumbling. Due to the aborted burn, it was too late for the spacecraft to slow down; therefore, the spacecraft flew by Eros on December 23, 1998 instead of slowing down and starting the orbital phase of the mission. On January 3, 1999, the spacecraft was slowed until it was just under the speed at which Eros orbits the sun (2,017 mph). Finally, on February 14, 2000, the spacecraft entered orbit around Eros. Summaries of these events can be found at the NEAR News & Events web site.