On February 14, 2000 at 10:33 AM EST the NEAR spacecraft was successfully inserted into orbit around 433 Eros, becoming the first artificial satellite of an asteroid. Just over an hour later, NEAR pointed its camera at the asteroid and took the above picture from a range of 210 miles (330 km) above the surface.
NEAR was launched on February 17, 1996 as the first of NASA's Discovery missions to rendezvous with asteroid 433 Eros. During the journey to Eros, NEAR flew within 1212 kilometers (750 miles) of asteroid Mathilde on June 27, 1997. NEAR was to continue onto Eros and obtain orbit in December of 1998; however, due to a computer glitch the rendezvous burn of NEAR's bipropellant engine was aborted. This failure caused NEAR to fly past the asteroid on December 23, 1998. Mission operators quickly reprogrammed the spacecraft to obtain scientific flyby information and to put the spacecraft into an orbit that would eventually reach Eros in February 2000.
Eros is approximately 33x13x13 kilometers (20x8x8 miles) in size and resembles a "fat banana." It is the second largest near-Earth asteroid and spins on its axis once every 5 hours, 16 minutes. Eros exhibits a heavily cratered surface with one side dominated by a huge, scallop-rimmed gouge, and the opposite side by a conspicuous sharp, raised rimmed.
On February 10, four days before NEAR's insertion into orbit around Eros, the spacecraft's Multispectral Imager took this movie of the asteroid's rotation over one 5.27-hour Eros "day", from a range of 2050 miles (3300 kilometers).
Features as small as a 1100 feet (330 meters) across can be seen. The most prominent, sharp-rimmed impact crater is on the opposite side of Eros form a huge, hollowed-out gouge, which may also have been caused by an impact. Between these features, and towards the ends of the "fat banana" shape of Eros, the asteroid's surface is covered with smaller craters.
This image of the interior of Eros' saddle area, taken at a range of 204 km (127 miles), displays a paucity of craters compared to the surface on the right hand side of the image. The saddle displays many interesting structural features. Visible on the left wall are a series of closely spaced grooves that follow the terrain downslope. Opposite, on the upper right wall, trending towards the back of the saddle is a prominent ridge. Boulders are visible throughout this image. Features as small as 20 meters (65 feet) are discernable in this image.
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