Space & Beyond

First NASA/APL Space Exhibit of NEAR Spacecraft

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Discovery Station at Hagerstown and The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) are very pleased to present an exhibit of a quarter-scale model of the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft.

The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft was first launched in February of 1996. The launch from Cape Canaveral was hailed as a successful first mission launched in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Discovery Program. The NEAR mission began exploration of asteroids, and scientists say that a lot of data is being gathered to add to the needed base of knowledge which can help be the base of future missions. The spacecraft was programmed to rendezvous with asteroid 433 Eros in February of 2000. NEAR was to orbit Eros for a year, conducting scientific studies.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed and built the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory had the contract to manage the scientific mission for NASA.

The mission was the first study of the physical geology, composition and geophysics of an asteroid. The NEAR mission had three main goals:

  • Determine the physical and geological properties of a near-Earth asteroid (NEA)
  • Clarify relationships between asteroids, comets and meteorites
  • Further understanding of how and under what conditions planets formed and evolved.

Interestingly, the NEAR Shoemaker was the very first solar-powered spacecraft to travel beyond Mars’ orbit. NASA announced that this was a technical innovation for the successful spacecraft design. The engineers designed the spacecraft to travel and successfully operate as far as 203 million miles from the Sun.

NEAR was never initially designed to successfully land on an asteroid. Designers thought that a landing would be less than one percent successful. However, on February 12, 2001, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed  NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft landed on the 433 Eros asteroid, and began sending data from the surface of Eros. The mission has transmitted 10 times more data than originally hope for!

The Discovery Station Space and Beyond Exhibit includes additional displays about space, weather, and the solar system.


Now Showing in the Space and Beyond viewing area are video presentations of the Mars Rover “Curiosity” which accurately landed on Mars (350,000,000 miles from Earth). Museum visitors can view the Rover’s construction and testing, learn about its power source, the launch, its space journey, entry and descent, and the successful landing. Also, viewers can learn about data transmission, exploration and much more!