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CNN Today

NEAR Spacecraft, Against All Odds, Continues to Transmit Pictures from Eros

Aired February 13, 2001 - 2:12 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: At just about this time yesterday, if you were tuned in, we hope you were, NASA's NEAR spacecraft was making its historic landing on the potato-shaped asteroid, some 196 million miles from Earth. It was the first spacecraft ever to land on an asteroid, and it immediately got busy sending images of the surface back to Earth.

Now, the team that send the NEAR into space is considering an encore mission, but they've apparently got to hurry.

With more about that, here's CNN's space correspondent Miles O'Brien at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. Hi, there, Miles. Interesting that this vessel was not even scheduled to land on an asteroid and it did a good job of it.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: It did a very good job, and it's an improbable day after, Natalie, because the team right now is huddled together, trying to figure out what to do with the fact that it's still alive and kicking.

They're getting data back and those screens in that computer center there, the commission control center here at the applied physics laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, shows that the spacecraft is alive, it's well and it's solar panels are generating power. That's an astounding outcome for a little spacecraft that was not designed to land at all.

So, what are they going to do? Well, first of all, scientist are already starting to look at some of these pictures which they gathered, the most comprehensive close-up pictures of an asteroid ever gathered. Some of these things you're seeing there are about as big as a centimeter, just to give you an idea of scale.

This will tell them an awful lot about how asteroids made, what the surface is made of in particular. What they'd like to try to do is to lift off for a short hop, and in so doing, get a quick picture of the landing site. That could tell them how loose potential soil is on the surface or for that matter, whether it's just bedrock.

This is just a little bit of bonus science. The descent was bonus as it was. So, I don't even know what you'd call this. This puts it in the lotto round, I suppose. So, That's what's going on right now. In the meantime, 7:00 p.m. Eastern time Valentine's Day, tomorrow, NASA pulls the plug on this mission. They lose their support with the tracking system, called the Deep Space Network. So, whatever will happen probably is going to happen fairly quickly.

Now, one other thing we have going on. There is a shuttle mission under way. Yesterday, we were telling you about the space walk outside the International Space Station. In a just few minutes, about 20 minutes' time, we are going to have an opportunity to talk to these two guys right here, Tom Jones to the left, Bob Curbeam to the right, as well as the rest of the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and ask them about their construction mission to the International Space Station.

And as a bonus, I'm not going to hog all the questions. You can join in. Log on to cnn.com/chat, and I'll be watching your suggested questions as I'm talking to the astronauts. Turn on your TV. You can listen to them, and if you have a question for the astronauts, send it to me and I'll relay it to them live. That's at 2:38 p.m. Eastern time and we hope you'll be here with us online and on TV.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, live from Laurel, Maryland.

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