Dawn Spacecraft Reaches Vesta Asteroid, Begins Probe
On Friday night, after a four-year looping flight past Mars and across nearly 2 billion miles of space, a spacecraft from California named Dawn was to enter a long-planned orbit around the asteroid Vesta.
“It has taken nearly four years to get to this point,” said Robert Mase, the Dawn project manager. “Our latest tests and checkouts show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally.”
One of the goals of Dawn, a program which was launched in 2007 by NASA, is to offer insights into the beginning of the universe by examining rocky objects that date to the time when scientists believe planets were forming in the solar system.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, who is in charge of monitoring Dawn’s progress, the spacecraft’s cameras had already sent back images of Vesta’s surface, taken from nearly 26,000 miles away.
Following its one-year orbit of Vesta, the shiny, crater-pocked asteroid barely 330 miles in diameter, Dawn is scheduled to travel another 930 million miles and begin its probe of the icy dwarf planet named Ceres in 2015.
If successful, Dawn’s double-destination mission will mark the first time a spacecraft has orbited two bodies in the solar system.