The lab that landed the first spacecraft on an
asteroid now has its name on one of the sun-orbiting space
Lauding the Johns Hopkins University
Laboratory's leading role in several planetary
missions, the International Astronomical Union approved the
name "132524 APL" for the provisionally tagged 2002 JF56, a
small main-belt asteroid just beyond Mars' orbit. The
Pluto-bound, APL-built New Horizons spacecraft zipped past
the asteroid last June, and with some fast planning and
programming from operators at APL and other institutions,
was able to photograph the 2-mile-wide asteroid while
testing its abilities to track moving objects.
New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the
Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., proposed
the name to the IAU. "It's nice to see APL get its name
enshrined in space," Stern says. "It was long overdue."
Dated Jan. 6, the IAU citation announcing the name
identifies APL as the developer of "numerous space
missions" such as NEAR to asteroid Eros, MESSENGER to
Mercury and New Horizons to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. APL
made space history in 2000-2001 with NEAR, or Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous, which was the first spacecraft to
orbit and then land on an asteroid.
Walt Faulconer, APL's Civilian Space Business Area
executive, said, "As the organization that first landed a
spacecraft on an asteroid on behalf of NASA, it's fitting
recognition to now have an asteroid named APL. It's also
exciting that it's an asteroid we saw with our New Horizons
spacecraft on its journey to Pluto. We'll have to plan a
mission to 'APL' someday."
Asteroid APL was discovered in May 2002 by the Lincoln
Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro,
N.M. To track its path in space, go to: