This mission is Columbus Magnet School’s 8th shuttle mission. The project, designated Operation NEAR, will be first manned flight to an asteroid. The Space Shuttle, NEO Hunter, will rendezvous with the asteroid 1999 JZ10 during it’s close approach to the Earth on May 2, 2002.
The mission team was selected from 5th grade students at Columbus magnet school. This mission was chosen because of the importance of learning about NEOs (Near Earth Objects) within our solar system. These objects, comets, meteroids and asteroids have had and will continue to have an important role to life on earth. Throughout the solar system’s 4.6 billion year history, the earth has been constantly bombarded with interplanetary objects, some of which scientists think may have been responsible for numerous periods of mass extinctions, such as took place during the Permian 250 million years ago, and the Cretaceous 70 million years ago when dinosaurs became extinct.
The Operation NEAR team have been learning about space science, asteroids and the space shuttle since last September. The mission was inspired by the unmanned Shoemaker-NEAR mission successfully completed last year. The NEAR mission (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) flew by and photographed asteroid Mathilde and landed on Asteroid 433 Eros on February 2nd, 2001. Scientists have been tracking NEO objects for many years. Information is available at http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/. Over 1700 known near earth objects have been identified, one asteroid, 1999 JZ10, will be making its closest approach to the earth on May 8th 2002. Students at Columbus school are having a contest to name the asteroid. During the landing, the students will be dedicating the asteroid.