What was the NEAR-Shoemaker mission?
Exploring Asteroids and Comets
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The Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission was the first spacecraft sent specifically to explore and orbit an asteroid. The target of choice was 433 Eros, a yam-shaped asteroid whose orbit comes close to that of Earth’s. NEAR was launched on February 17, 1996, on a Delta II rocket; after its successful encounter with Eros, the mission was renamed NEAR-Shoemaker, in honor of the pioneering planetary scientist Eugene Shoemaker (1928–1987).