Another Look at NEAR

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Science  14 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5613, pp. 1661-1663
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5613.1661c

I would like to set the record straight about the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, which was discussed in Richard A. Kerr's article “NASA's new road to faster, cheaper, better exploration” (News Focus, 15 Nov., p. 1320). Although generally accurate, the article contained some technical errors and omissions. NEAR's near-infrared spectrometer actually failed after 3 months in orbit and 4 years in flight, and the article did not note that it successfully accomplished its primary science objectives. It was not significantly hampered by NEAR's fixed solar panels and nonsteerable antenna, because it had (and used) a scan mirror. The article stated that NEAR's gamma ray spectrometer did not return useful data from orbit, which is correct, but that was because the asteroid emitted a lower gamma ray flux than was predicted, not because of the absence of a boom for the instrument. The instrument had an active anticoincidence shield that effectively removed the contaminating spacecraft background. In the end, the NEAR gamma ray spectrometer did return a spectacular data set, but from the surface of Eros after the spacecraft landed—something neither the instrument nor the spacecraft was originally designed to do.

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