Artist's concept of asteroid landing
Artist's concept of asteroid landing

The team that made history last year by navigating a spacecraft to a remarkably safe landing on an asteroid received a laureate prize today from Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

Dr. Bobby G. Williams of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., accepted the laureate's award for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission navigation team at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C.

"Working on the project has been the high point of my career," said Williams. "A maneuver like this had never been done before - our team had to go back to school and rethink the way we do things."

On February 12, 2001, the spacecraft was coaxed into a soft landing on the surface of asteroid Eros. "The feat of landing on a body with only one-thousandth of Earth's gravity was all the more remarkable given that the spacecraft was not designed to land at all, " said James Asker, Washington bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

The team included navigators from both JPL and the mission's managing center, Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. Besides landing the spacecraft, the navigation team recorded many firsts, accomplishments that will be recounted in the April 29, 2002 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

In addition to navigating the first spacecraft to come close to and orbit around an asteroid, the navigation team also added orbits that were not part of the original plan, once brushing by the asteroid just 2.7 kilometers (about 1.7 miles) from the surface so that scientists could get more data about the space rock.

The JPL navigation team included James K. Miller, Peter J. Antreasian, Cliff E. Helfrich, William M. Owen, Jr., Eric Carranza, Steven R. Chesley, Tseng-Chan Wang, Jon D. Giorgini, and John J. Bordi.

More information on the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission is available at

Launched on Feb. 17, 1996, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission was the first in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost planetary missions. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed and built the spacecraft. The mission team includes members from JPL as well as Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; University of Maryland, College Park; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; University of Arizona, Tucson; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Environment Center, Boulder, Colo.; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; NASA's Solar Data Analysis Center, Greenbelt, Md.; Malin Space Science Systems Inc., San Diego, Calif.; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas.; Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.; University of California, Los Angeles; Catholic University, Washington, D.C.; Computer Sciences Corporation, El Segundo, Calif.; and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages many space missions for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington D.C.

News Media Contact

JPL/Martha Heil (818) 354-0850