US Spacecraft to be Pulled into Giant Asteroid’s Orbit


nasa-spaceAfter its nearly four-year trek, NASA engineers are expected to confirm this weekend that the US spacecraft Dawn has entered the orbit of Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system.

Mission leaders estimate that Dawn was pulled into Vesta’s orbit around 0500 GMT today and engineers should be able to confirm this when the space craft performs a scheduled communication pass at 0630 GMT Sunday, according to the US space agency.

Dawn should come within 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of Vesta to study its surface while traveling 116 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth.

“It has taken nearly four years to get to this point,” said Robert Mase, manager of the $466 million project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally,” he added.

“We feel a little like Columbus approaching the shores of the New World,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, based at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). “The Dawn team can’t wait to start mapping this Terra Incognita.”

After a year of observations and measurements around Vesta, Dawn will depart for its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, in July 2012. It will be the first craft to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth, said NASA officials.

The foremost objective of Dawn’s eight-year mission is to compare and contrast the two giant bodies, which NASA says will help scientists “unlock the secrets of our solar system’s early history.”

“Dawn’s science instrument suite will measure surface composition, topography and texture. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft will measure the tug of gravity from Vesta and Ceres to learn more about their internal structures,” NASA said in a press release.

The spacecraft, which was launched in 2007, has a gamma ray and neutron detector instrument, which will gather information on cosmic rays during the approach phase, as well as an infrared mapping spectrometer.

The mission, which can be followed on NASA’s website at, comes as a far more famous space craft, the shuttle Atlantis, orbits the Earth on the final mission of the 30-year shuttle program.

Private enterprise is working feverishly to come up with a next-generation US space capsule for cargo and crew.

President Barack Obama has said such a capsule is crucial for sending astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to an asteroid and to Mars.

{Yahoo News/ Newscenter}


  1. can you please stop wasting our hard earned money on such useless info. $446 million is a bit steep for our financial situation in the U.S. right now.

  2. STOP!!! spending our hard earned money on such useless information. $466 million dollars is a bit steep for our country at this point.

  3. I agree, as is billions on useless space programs like sending up shuttle after shuttle and rocket after rocket for the purpose of finding useless information, such as, was there water on mars 40 billion years ago.
    Seriously I don’t care, and if anyone thinks it is useful? pay for it yourselves.
    How much money has the American Gavvah costed over the last 50 years, just to try and outdo the Russians. Hang the idiots, is what I say!

  4. I can think of a few NASA innovations, such as:
    Edible toothpaste, Infrared ear thermometers, freeze dried food, scratch resistant and UV blocking eye-glasses, memory metal (flexible) eye-glasses & anti-scalding showers, silver ion bacteria-resistant home water filters/softeners, eco-friendly water treatment plants, carbon monoxide detectors, wireless headsets, air-chambered sole “athletic” footwear, liquid metal/metallic glass (stronger than titanium), temper foam, shock absorbing foam (for helmets, etc), cordless vacuums, high performance solar cells, the list goes on, and on…
    “NASA has recorded about 1,600 new technologies or inventions each year for the past several decades, but far fewer become commercial products, said Daniel Lockney, technology transfer program executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. … ‘We didn’t know that by building the space shuttle main engines we’d also get a new implantable heart device,’ Lockney said. ‘There’s also a bunch of stuff we don’t know we’re going to learn, which leads to serendipitous spinoffs.’ … But some innovations do not appear as a straight line drawn from NASA to commercial products. The U.S. space agency may not claim credit for computers and the digital revolution that followed, but it did create a pool of talent that perhaps contributed to that transformation of modern life. NASA brought together hundreds of the brightest scientists and engineers in the 1970s to work on the guidance computers that helped the Apollo missions land humans on the moon. When the Apollo era ended, many of those people dispersed to private companies and to Silicon Valley