Monday, March 17, 2008

Honoring a Planetary Geologist

Eight years ago yesterday NASA's Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft was re-
named NEAR Shoemaker to honor the late Dr. Eugene M. Shoemaker. Gene Shoemaker was legendary and inspirational planetary geologist who had a remarkable career. He was instrumental in organizing and performing many comet and asteroid surveys in the past century. He was perhaps most famous for finding, along with Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with the Palomar 18-inch Schmidt in March 1993. The comet had broken up with a previous close encounter with Jupiter and collided with it in spectacular fashion in July 1994.

After a year in orbit about the asteroid Eros NEAR Shoemaker became the first spacecraft to perform a landing on an asteroid. Here is a sequence of images taken during one orbit about Eros:

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