Silent Nights for NEAR and Contour
December 24, 2002 | Two teams from Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) have made unsuccessful attempts to regain contact with two silenced spacecraft. On December 10th, engineers spent 12 hours trying to communicate with the NEAR Shoemaker probe, which has sat on the surface of asteroid 433 Eros for the past 22 months after completing its orbital mission around the minor planet. Circumstances were favorable because NEAR's solar panels have been in direct sunlight for 3 months. Alas, wake-up calls transmitted to the spacecraft went unanswered. Another APL team also made its final attempts to contact the Contour spacecraft this month. It is believed that the spacecraft broke up during a firing of a rocket motor on August 15th intended to send the probe out of Earth orbit. On December 20th, after 16 hours of listening for the spacecraft during the week, engineers ended their campaign and recommended that the Contour project close.