This image of the asteroid Eros—named after the Greek god of love—was captured on March 3, 2000, by NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft. It’s actually a mosaic of six separate images acquired from a distance of 127 miles from the 20-mile-wide asteroid, and reveals many large boulders scattered across the surface down to about 160 feet in size. The ubiquitous boulders on Eros are believed to be fragments of its own native rock, shattered by countless impact events over time.
The NEAR mission launched Feb. 17, 1996, aboard a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. An acronym of Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, it was later named in honor of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, a geologist, astronomer, and impact crater specialist, and a pioneer in the field of planetary science.
NEAR Shoemaker was the first of NASA’s low-cost, high-science-return “Discovery” missions and the first spacecraft ever to go into orbit around an asteroid. After closely passing the main-belt asteroid 253 Mathilde in June 1997, NEAR entered orbit around Eros on Feb. 14, 2000.
NEAR remained in orbit for nearly a full year, collecting data and capturing images until finally touching down on Eros’ surface on Feb. 12, 2001—also a first feat for any spacecraft.