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The tumbling asteroid Eros (shown here in a time sequence taken during NEAR's approach) was a challenging target for space navigators. (NASA/JHU Applied Physics Laboratory)

Hang a Right at Jupiter

For space navigators, the best course to a distant object is never a straight line.

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“This is too easy,” Dunham says.

“Well,” says Farquhar, smiling now, “it’s easy after you’ve done all the work.”

When the spacecraft hits a preset velocity, the thrusters shut themselves off. Soon the tracking data comes back: NEAR has hit its marks perfectly, and is now nestled into the desired close orbit. Farquhar and the rest of his mission team can sit back and relax. For now.

About Michael Milstein

Michael Milstein is a freelance writer who specializes in science. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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