10 June 1999

Name that asteroid!

The launch of Deep Space 1 on October 24, 1998, marked the beginning of NASA's New Millennium Program. Part of the objective of this mission is to test cutting-edge technologies that could, one day, get us to the most fascinating and possibly important destinations in the solar system.

On July 29 this year, while on its journey, Deep Space 1 will fly past an asteroid called 1992 KD (9969). And that's a rather dull name for an asteroid, let's face it. The encounter is designed to provide a final, extremely challenging test for Deep Space 1's autonomous navigation system, which has successfully guided the spacecraft on its interplanetary cruise. The on-board navigation system will attempt to bring the spacecraft closer to the asteroid than a jet plane is above Earth when it is at cruising altitude.

Asteroid 1992 KD was discovered on May 27, 1992 by E. Helin and K. Lawrence with the Schmidt telescope located at Palomar Observatory. When it was discovered, 1992 KD appeared as a trail traveling North-Northeast in the constellation Libra.

No spacecraft has ever attempted to fly as close to a solar system body without actually landing on it.

As a bonus, the sophisticated science instruments tested on Deep Space 1 will return exciting pictures and other important data during this high-risk encounter. During the mission, Deep Space1 will also measure its basic physical properties, including mineral composition, size, shape, surface features, and brightness. Deep Space 1 will also search for changes in the solar wind as it interacts with the asteroid to find out if it has a magnetic field. Solar wind is a stream of high-energy particles that emanates from the Sun.

But that's probably not as important as the opportunity for you to put your name up in lights. As part of the program, The Planetary Society is giving you the opportunity to name the asteroid. Because the Deep Space 1 mission uses new and high-risk technologies that could enable future missions to probe the universe, the theme is inventors. Each suggestion should be accompanied by a short explanation (50 words maximum) of why the name is appropriate.

Submit your ideas by June 15 to:

Asteroid 1992 KD Contest The Planetary Society 65 N. Catalina Avenue Pasadena, CA 91106 USA