The NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) unmanned spacecraft, built and flown for NASA by John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, lifts off from Cape Canaveral on a mission to orbit and study asteroid 433 Eros, a target it won’t reach until 1998 at the earliest; it will fly by another asteroid in 1997. Other trajectories under consideration during mission planning included a combination of several asteroids and comets, before the limitations of NEAR’s chemical propulsion system forced those plans to be scaled back. (A more ambitious multi-asteroid mission, Dawn, will be launched in the 21st century.) NEAR will become the first human-made spacecraft to land on an asteroid.
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