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Donald Savage 
Headquarters, Washington, DC                   March 14, 2000
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Mike Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD 
(Phone: 240/ 228-7536)

RELEASE:  00-38


The NASA satellite conducting the first-ever close-up study of an asteroid will be renamed to honor Dr. Eugene M. Shoemaker, a legendary geologist who influenced decades of research on the role of asteroids and comets in shaping the planets. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft, currently orbiting asteroid 433 Eros more than 145 million miles from Earth, will now be known as NEAR Shoemaker.

"Gene Shoemaker was an inspirational, charismatic pioneer in the field of interplanetary science," said Dr. Carl B. Pilcher, Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. Pilcher announced the new name today during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. "It is a fitting tribute that we place his name on the spacecraft whose mission will expand on all he taught us about asteroids, comets and the origins of our solar system. "

Shoemaker died in a 1997 car accident in the Australian outback while on an annual study of asteroid impact craters. With his wife and research partner, Carolyn, Shoemaker was part of the leading comet discovery team of the past century, perhaps most famous for finding the comet (Shoemaker-Levy 9) that broke up and collided with Jupiter in 1994.

He was an expert on craters and the impacts that caused them. Shoemaker's work on the nature and origin of Meteor Crater in Arizona in the 1960s laid the foundation for research on craters throughout the solar system. He also established the lunar geological time scale that allowed researchers to date the features on the moon's surface.

Though he never realized his dream of tapping a rock hammer on the moon, Shoemaker taught Apollo astronauts about craters and lunar geology before they left Earth. Last year, when NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft crashed on the Moon in an experiment at the end of its mission, a small vial of Shoemaker's ashes, carried aboard the spacecraft, was scattered on the lunar surface.

Shoemaker was a key member of the 1985 working group that first studied the NEAR mission, defining its science objectives and designing a conceptual payload. Many of the group's recommended instruments were included in the actual spacecraft, which only a month into its yearlong orbit of Eros is already returning fascinating data on the asteroid's surface and geology.

The first in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost planetary missions, NEAR launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station, FL, on Feb. 17, 1996. After a four-year journey that included flybys of Earth (Jan. 1998) and asteroids Mathilde (June 1997) and Eros (Dec. 1998), NEAR began orbiting Eros on Feb. 14, 2000. The car- sized spacecraft will observe the asteroid from various distances -- coming within several miles of the surface -- before the mission ends in February 2001. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, designed and built the NEAR spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science.

EDITORS NOTE: Images and information on the NEAR mission are available at:

Information on Eugene Shoemaker is available at:

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