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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 18:11 GMT 19:11 UK
Write your name on an asteroid
Near-Shoemaker approaching Eros, Nasa
A Nasa probe was the first to touch an asteroid
Japanese space scientists are offering a million people the chance to put their name on to the surface of an asteroid as part of an effort to publicise a mission to land on a space rock.

American space agency (Nasa) scientists became the first to land a probe on an asteroid when they put the Near-Shoemaker craft down on Eros in 2001.

Now, a team from the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences is getting ready for a mission which will bring back a sample from an asteroid.

They are offering to place a million names on to a target to be used in landing manoeuvres and then left on the orbiting rock, New Scientist magazine reports.

Autonomous landing plan

The MUSES-C probe is scheduled for launch by December 2002.

It will use ion drive propulsion to circle the Sun before catching up with asteroid 1998SF36 in the year 2005.

As it approaches the space rock, it will be too far away for the landing to be controlled remotely from Earth.

So the craft will fire a shiny rubbery target marker at the rock to give it an aiming point.

It is this marker which will carry the names.

Five-year mission

The probe is designed to map the asteroid using cameras and a laser rangefinder while X-ray and infra-red spectrometers assess its composition.

The Japanese craft will then brush the surface of the asteroid before returning to Earth two years later.

The mission will be of great interest to scientists attempting to assess how much of a danger near-Earth objects pose to life on our planet.

The science team already have 170,000 names and are collecting more on their website.

See also:

04 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
12 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
12 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
16 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
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