1.3 >> The Green Slime is N.E.A.R.

Three decades following the release of the 1968 sci-fi classic 2001:  A Space Odyssey and three years before the year 2001, Hollywood spent more money than it had in the entire history of cinema (with respect to the subject) to convey to the movie-going public the cataclysmic concept of cosmic impacts with Earth.

By their release dates in 1998, some $220 million had been allocated between two analogous blockbuster films that grossed more than $340 million in domestic box office sales.  Although Armageddon was the more successful of the two ventures, the second film, entitled Deep Impact, received the more favorable reviews and will be the primary focus of our initial investigation.

armageddon-deep impact

Deep Impact, released prior to Armageddon, benefited tremendously  from the fact famed director/screenwriter Steven Spielberg served as its executive producer.  Spielberg based the film in large part on a 1993 novel entitled The Hammer of God, which was written by none other than Arthur C. Clarke – the same visionary that penned the 1968 novel 2001 ASO as well as co-wrote the film’s screenplay in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick.  In addition to having been written by the same novelist and screenwriter associated with 2001 ASO, there’s yet another intriguing link between The Hammer of God and the year 2001.

The Hammer of God was an outgrowth of an Arthur C. Clarke short story published by Time Magazine in its special Beyond the Year 2000 issue (Oct. 1992).

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As the caption at the bottom of the associated cover indicates (WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE NEW MILLENNIUMsee image above), the theme of Time’s special 1992 issue was clearly conceived in anticipation of the year 2001 (the first year beyond the year 2000), which is to say, the dawn of the new millennium.  This is no doubt why Clarke was commissioned to contribute to the publication, given his long pop culture association with the year 2001.

With respect to Clarke’s short story contribution to the special issue, he was given free rein and selected the impact phenomenon as his topic, a subject which had grown quite near and dear to his heart.

Before delving into the subject matter of Deep Impact, there’s an intriguing real-world coincidence relating to The Hammer of God that should be considered, one that’s been underscored by Clarke himself and certainly worthy of note – it took place shortly after the novel was published.

In March of 1993 the world’s foremost comet-hunting team, comprised of Gene Shoemaker, his wife Carolyn Shoemaker and their colleague David Levy, discovered a fragmented comet in orbit around Jupiter.  In the days following the discovery, the determination was made the fractured comet was on a collision course with the giant planet and subsequent calculations suggested the impact would occur in 1994.  This comet was Shoemaker-Levy 9 (or SL9).

As the impact date neared, unprecedented preparations were underway to capture images of the cataclysmic collision – an event never before witnessed in the history of humanity.  Nearly every observatory and amateur telescope in the world was focused on Jupiter as well as an arsenal of space-based devices such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Ultraviolet Explorer and the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer.  Moreover, interplanetary probes were remotely reoriented to glimpse the event.  These included the Ulysses, the Voyager 2 and last, but not least, the aforementioned Galileo probe (post 1.2), which was well on its way to intercepting Jupiter at the time.

The series of fragmented impacts proved to be quite remarkable.  The Galileo probe managed to snap incredible photographs of massive impact plumes rising from the surface of the planet in the wake of the collisions and the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of impact blemishes on the face of Jupiter that surpassed the size of the Earth!

What’s the likelihood a bestselling 1993 novel, describing a predicted cometary impact with our planet, would be published the very same year countless scientists (not to mention untold amateur astronomers and the public at large), for the first time in history, would become aware of a real-world prediction of an upcoming comet collision with an adjacent planet?  Scientists estimate comet impacts of this magnitude occur only once every 1,000 years or so.

As an added bit of intrigue, it was the public fascination with the July 1994 collision of SL9 with Jupiter that convinced producers Steven Spielberg, David Brown and Richard Zanuck to move forward with the Deep Impact script, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin.

In both the novel The Hammer of God and the novel’s cinematic adaptation, Deep Impact, a crew of astronauts is sent on a mission to intercept a bolide on a collision course with Earth.  In the film version of the story, the crew touches down on the surface of the inbound comet (Wolf-Biederman), drills several shafts to strategic depth, embeds explosive devices within these shafts and then lifts off the surface to detonate the explosives from a safe distance.

Interestingly enough, this was also the plot of Armageddon, although this film featured an asteroid instead of a comet as well as two intercept shuttles (Freedom & Independence) rather than the one spacecraft featured in Deep Impact (Messiah).

To most teenage science fiction fans circa 1998, the concept of landing a spacecraft on the surface of an asteroid or comet in an effort to then carefully plant explosive devices for remote detonation likely seemed an innovative idea in terms of cinematic sci-fi scenarios.  As it turns out, however, the idea wasn’t as pioneering as one might expect.

Leaving 1998 and returning once again to 1968 – the same year Clarke’s 2001 ASO debuted – we refocus our attention on a more modest cinematic event that took place a few months after 2001 ASO’s release.  The event in question was the unveiling of a U.S./Japanese/Italian film venture entitled The Green Slime.  Interestingly, the film was presented by MGM, which also gave us 2001 ASO.

TGS

Although the film’s primary plotline revolves around Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) and his crew of astronauts inadvertently bringing hostile organisms from space back to the Gamma 3 space station (another 33 reference – gamma being the third letter of Greek alphabet), the actual intent of the astronauts is somewhat different.

In a manner reminiscent of that presented in The Paradise Syndrome episode of Star Trek (also broadcast in 1968 - see post 1.1), a discussion at the outset of the film reveals the purpose of the mission.  In this instance, a conversation between Commander Rankin and General Jonathan Thompson of the U.N. Space Command, informs the viewer the objective of the astronaut team is to avert disaster by mounting a search-and-destroy mission from the Earth-orbiting space station Gamma 3 to a six million ton asteroid named Flora, which is on a collision course with (you guessed it) Earth.

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Although the caliber of the movie’s special effects is primitive compared to that of either Armageddon or Deep Impact, the intercept and destroy story lines of the later blockbusters precisely parallel that of The Green Slime, which was the first film ever to depict such a mission or the hypothetical landing of a manmade spacecraft on an asteroid for that matter.  To illustrate just how similar the 1998 films are to the 1968 original, let’s consider a specific example.

As indicated, in both 1998 films, crews of astronauts are rocketed away from Earth to intercept inevitable impactors (one an asteroid and the other a comet).  They successfully touchdown on the surfaces of the bolides, bore holes or shafts into the subsurface using special drills, plant powerful explosive devices in the resulting shafts and then depart from the surface with the intention of detonating the devices remotely (images of the drills are depicted in the movie stills below – CLICK to enlarge).

drills

With the images above in mind, we’ll now consider the images below, which depict astronauts from the 1968 film, The Green Slime, as they drill holes in the surface of asteroid Flora and insert explosive devices that are later detonated while they’re in orbit – the exact type of operation portrayed in Armageddon and Deep Impact three decades later.

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Although, in and of itself, there’s nothing extraordinary about an innovative sci-fi scenario from a low-budget 1960′s creature feature resurfacing three decades later in two independently produced big-budget films, when we then factor the real world into the equation, things become a bit more interesting, particularly when bearing in mind the alleged 33-year (1968/2001) temporal nexus.

To movie screenwriters circa 1968 the idea of landing a spacecraft on a giant asteroid in an Earth-saving gesture was no doubt a novel one and The Green Slime was the first film in the history of cinema to depict such a hypothetical landing and mission.  However, whereas the silver screen seamlessly depicted the entire process, portraying it as something of a “cakewalk” as opposed to a “spacewalk,” any astrophysicist from the period would’ve testified to the fact that engineering the rendezvous alone would present tremendous difficulty, knowing full well it would be far more complicated than envisioned by Hollywood.

Although, to the scientists of the period, such real-world challenges may’ve seemed well beyond their grasp and, in 1968, even the Moon had yet to be explored, the space age wouldn’t forever remain mired in its youth.  With time came empirical knowledge and wisdom, one experiment built upon the success of another and, as had been the case so many times in the past, the fictions of former times became reality.  And so came the decade that brought us Armageddon and Deep Impact

NEAR miss

In February 1996, a carefully bundled assortment of cosmic ray spectrometers along with a multi-spectral imager, a laser altimeter, a powerful X-band radio transponder and a magnetometer mounted, 1.5 m high-gain antenna made their way to Cape Canaveral’s launch complex LC17B as an 805 kg, three-axis-stabilized, solar-powered spacecraft named N.E.A.R. (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous).  Near’s primary mission:  intercept the massive (13x13x33 km) near- Earth asteroid known as 433 Eros , whose perihelion distance is 1.133 AU (there are triple 33 references here).

Destined to soar into history, the sophisticated assemblage, replete with 1600 watt, non-articulating solar panels, was cautiously crammed inside the lofty nosecone of a Delta II Lite launch vehicle (the 7925-8).  Economically employed as a cost-cutting measure, the Delta II was to usher in a new era of relatively affordable planetary missions known as “Discovery.”

Having scrubbed the originally slated launch sequence several hours prior, day two of a twelve-day launch window arrived under favorable circumstances.  Heralding its arrival were steady 10 MPH headwinds out of the east and wispy tufts of scattered clouds, which conspired collectively to create cordial conditions.  Then, at 3:43 PM on 17 February, with moderate temperatures hovering around 55° F and about 10 miles’ visibility, the NEAR spacecraft successfully blastoff from its Florida pad under the watchful eyes of a team of scientists from Laurel, Maryland’s John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

Accelerated in its climb ever higher, twenty-two minutes following launch the closely monitored spacecraft separated from its third stage and responsibility for attitude control seamlessly segued from the launch vehicle to NEAR’s independent guidance and control subsystem.  Then, in rapid succession, a cleverly crafted “yo-yo” de-spin mechanism reduced the spacecraft’s stabilizing spin from 69 RPM to zero and simultaneously released NEAR’s stowed solar panel array from launch position.  Like precision clockwork, carefully constructed spring loaded hinges flawlessly deployed the solar panels to an on-orbit configuration.  At 100 miles, the probe entered a brief 13-minute coast period, allowing solar panel usage one hour after launch.  Following this flurry of critical activity, the spacecraft then dutifully transitioned to the lengthy cruise phase of its long voyage.

NEAR probe

The initial stage of NEAR’s cruise phase followed an intermittent itinerary of routine diagnostics.  Lulled into semi-suspended animation, for the first few weeks the sleepy spacecraft periodically conducted component function tests to apprise mission control of its health as well as performed low-level burns to calibrate the propulsion system and correct for minor trajectory errors.

The latter portion of NEAR’s cruise phase was characterized by minimal activity.  The spacecraft was said to have entered something of a hibernation state due to the limited availability of electrical power at distances ranging from 1.5 to 2 AU from the Sun and the desire to avoid thermally stressing NEAR’s solar panel array.  With the exception of the telemetry subsystem, which periodically monitored low-level housekeeping and sampled navigational data stored on solid state recorders, all instrumentation was shutdown.

As the determined drone rapidly rocketed ever further from Earth’s comparatively warm atmosphere, heaters were used to maintain the temperature of inactive systems.  Ground station contacts were established only three times per week to observe health, upload future command sequences and discard obsolete telemetry from the spacecraft’s recorders.  This laid-back routine redundantly repeated as days stretched into weeks and weeks into months.

Just over a year after launch, NEAR barreled beyond the orbit of Mars, penetrating deep into the main asteroid belt and reaching an aphelion distance of 2.18 AU, establishing a new record for the distance at which a spacecraft draws power from an active solar array (operating at around 350 watts).

Four months later, NEAR was mired in the midst of premeditated primping for an historic flyby of 253 Mathilde, a main belt C-type asteroid discovered in 1885.  The unique flyby was worked into the mission plan in late 1994 and required a worthwhile wandering of 0.015 AU from the nominal Eros intercept trajectory.  Some experts expressed concern that high-speed impacting dust particles from Mathilde might inflict crippling damage to the probe but the hazard of harm was ultimately outweighed by the prospect of priceless encounter data.

In the 17 days it takes the Earth to complete 17 rotations, the massive Mathilde asteroid, measuring 50x53x57 km, completes but a single 360° spin.  To an observer hovering high above its surface, this monstrous mountain of metal and rock would appear comparable in size to Gran Canaria, a tourist-laden land mass located off the northwest coast of Africa – the somewhat circular member of the Canary Islands archipelago.

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As the tiny, two-year-old tot of a spacecraft raced toward a megalithic monstrosity at least two billion years its elder, APL’s multi-spectral imager came online and, acting in concert with NEAR’s state-of-the-art telecommunications system, took full advantage of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) back on Earth to carry out a critical navigation phase of the mission.

DSN, comprised of three enormous parabolic high-gain antennas, strategically spaced 120° across the globe at Goldstone (California), Madrid (Spain) and Canberra (Australia) was now providing continuous coverage for the mission.

Precisely pinpointing the rapidly approaching behemoth, NEAR’s sophisticated but rugged imager, hewn from titanium and radiation-hardened glass, captured a time-lapse sequence of images that were up-linked to Earth at the X-band frequency of 7.2 GHz.  Using the image sequence as an optical navigation tool (OpNav), mission control combined the incoming telemetry with ground-based tracking information to calculate a flyby trajectory, which was regularly refined as the trip progressed.

As the spacecraft swept by the asteroid at a distance of 753 miles, magnetic field and mass measurements were taken in addition to color photographs at 1 km and monochrome images at 200 to 300 m.  As NEAR overtook and rocketed by the asteroid, the craft hastily scanned the surrounding vicinity of Mathilde for orbiting satellites, finding none.

A few days following its first asteroid encounter, NEAR utilized its bi-propellant thruster to perform its first deep space maneuver (DSM-1) in anticipation of the upcoming completion of its first full orbit and its rapid rounding of Earth’s gravitational field.   The maneuver succeeded in slowing its speed by 625 MPH to a meager 22,216 MPH, thereby reducing its perihelion distance and thus paving the way to increase its energy upon its terrestrial swing-by encounter several months later.

Approximately 6 months following DSM-1, NEAR zipped across the skies over southwestern Iran at an invisibly high altitude of 335 miles and, with lightning swiftness, receded on its post-swing-by trajectory, which positioned it high over Earth’s South Polar Region, facilitating the imaging of Antarctica.

Safely completing its swing-by, the spacecraft accelerated to a blistering 28,497 MPH, most of which was strategically channeled into altering its orbital inclination by 10° rather than being utilized to increase its aphelion distance to the fringes of the solar system.  The tactical technique of using the craft’s newly acquired swing-by energy to match the orbital inclination of the Eros asteroid is now known as Delta-VEGA, Delta-V symbolizing a change in velocity (in this case the directional component being the most critical) and EGA an acronym for “Earth Gravity Assist.”

Having endured the acceleratory excitement of a brief reunion with its home world, the NEAR spacecraft dutifully departed on the last leg of its mission, sinking once again into a slumber-like standby mode even as it raced ever faster out of the inner solar system.

Roused from a deep sleeplike state following ten months of virtual hibernation, NEAR was again animated with activity as its multi-spectral imager came online at T-minus 200 days – this time to ogle 433 Eros, the spacecraft’s primary target.  Synchronizing the imager with its redundant X-band telecommunications system, the spacecraft began channeling a sequential barrage of telemetry to mission control at the speed of light – at its distance from Earth, transfer time was just over 20 minutes.  Enthusiastically utilizing the DSN to gather the priceless packets of information, APL systematically determined both the shape and rotational parameters of the age-old colossus, an asteroid which had wandered the frozen wastelands beyond the orbit of Mars for a virtual eternity.

Up to this point the mission had proceeded smoothly and by the numbers but, just when the confidence and morale of NEAR’s mission team was almost certainly nearing an effervescent crescendo, disaster struck!

On December 20, 1998, a month and a half following NEAR’s final awakening, an incoming signal confirming the successful completion of a preprogrammed settling burn was the last bit of data collected from the spacecraft before all contact with NEAR was lost.  Thirty-seven seconds following its bipropellant burn, NEAR’s main engine misfired, shutting down after less than one second and catastrophically undermining its crucial rendezvous maneuver.

Gripped with horror, mission control scrambled in an effort to determine what had happened and how communications might be restored.  With some members of the team no doubt descending into despair as they contemplated the real possibility of catastrophic failure, word came from the Deep Space Network, via Canberra station in Australia, that communications had been reestablished with the distant probe about 27 hours following disconnect.  As the team breathed a collective sigh of relief, information from NEAR continued to stream in and, by early morning the next day, enough engineering data had downloaded to reveal the reason for the loss of communication.

As it turned out, software safety measures were automatically implemented when the probe experienced lateral acceleration exceeding preprogrammed limits.  Following the engine shutdown, the spacecraft experienced anomalous attitude fluctuations (spinning and tumbling) and the battery discharged to low levels.  In essence, the spacecraft performed a hard reboot, remaining incommunicado and offline for a predetermined period prior to restarting itself.

The day following recovery, the much anticipated rendezvous was exchanged for an Eros flyby at a relative speed of 2,158 MPH and a range of 2,378 miles – despite the setback, mission team members no doubt understood the situation could’ve been much worse.

As a consequence of the system reset and the related mass fuel expenditure needed to correct NEAR’s orbital parameters, the scheduled meeting between the spacecraft and asteroid would be impossible to arrange by the 10 January 1999 orbital insertion date originally planned.  Not only was the January 1999 date scrubbed due to the unplanned fuel dump, but a second opportunity in July 1999 now had only a marginal window.  Ultimately, the rendezvous would be postponed for nearly a year, over the course of which NEAR would drift in close proximity to, but slightly ahead of Eros while performing a lengthy U-turn maneuver using its bipropellant engine.  In effect, to an observer traveling on the surface of 433 Eros, the probe would appear to halt its forward motion, loop around and reverse course on a slow second approach.  The U-turn was accomplished by an initial deep space maneuver (DSM-2), followed by the probe’s eighteenth trajectory correction maneuver (TCM-18) – the two maneuvers were spaced 17 days apart and, when combined with one final TCM several months later, had the effect of fine-tuning the spacecraft’s final approach. The end of mission, originally slated for 5 February 2000, could no longer be held to.

Six months following NEAR’s final TCM, the small spacecraft was captured by Eros’ gravitational field, entering a carefully calculated 327×450 km near-polar, retrograde orbit with a 27.6-day period, which, incidentally is almost identical to the Moon’s sidereal period or, the time it takes the Moon to complete one revolution around the Earth from the perspective of the stars outside our solar system.  A prograde orbit, following the spin of Eros, was avoided due to instability and the risk of either being ejected or impacting the surface.  A mid-mission flip maneuver was required to maintain the spacecraft’s retrograde orbit.

433 eros

433 eros orbit

In the wake of NEAR’s orbital insertion at 10:47 AM EST on the morning of 14 February 2000, an intensive twelve-month survey of Eros was underway.  Detailed observations of the geology, mineralogy and chemistry of the asteroid’s surface took place over the course of a lengthy orbital descent.  Specific physical parameters, such as mass, moment of inertia, gravity harmonics, spin state, rotation pole position and landmark locations would be measured and/or logged as well as revised in a stepwise manner.

It was also around this time that the probe was renamed NEAR Shoemaker in honor of the aforementioned geologist Dr. Gene Shoemaker (a pioneer in the fields of asteroid and crater science as well as the co-discoverer of Shoemaker-Levy 9, discussed earlier) – Dr. Shoemaker died the year following NEAR’s 1996 launch in the wake of an automobile accident that occurred while he and his wife visited Australia to conduct their annual exploration for new impact craters.  Having helped select and train the Apollo astronauts that walked on the surface of the Moon nearly three decades earlier, Dr. Shoemaker once commented that he’d like to take a geologist’s hammer to 433 Eros.

Over the course of the spacecraft’s intensive year-long study, NEAR Shoemaker would complete 230 orbits of Eros at distances ranging between 35 and 200 km from the asteroid’s center of mass, acquiring more than 140,000 invaluable images.  From February to July of 2000, NEAR Shoemaker’s orbital radius was decreased in discrete steps down to 35 km – this occurred while the northern hemisphere was illuminated by the Sun.  By November of the same year the probe’s orbital radius was stepped back up to 200 km in order to begin imaging the southern hemisphere, which, until that time, had been obscured in darkness.  In October of 2000, the probe carried out a low altitude flyover at 6 km in an effort to obtain high resolution images of the asteroid’s surface.  By January of 2001, an even lower altitude flyover, down to 3 km, produced remarkably detailed photos at resolutions of up to 50 cm/pixel.

The primary objectives of the NEAR mission were twofold:  1 – gather useful intelligence relating to the formation of small solar system bodies and their evolution, 2 – harvest physical evidence with which to bear out the long-held notion asteroids are the parent bodies of meteorites.  Although the key focus of the APL scientists was to achieve these stated objectives, once achieved a decision would need to be made with respect to the fate of the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft.  Should the spacecraft remain a manmade satellite, forever locked in orbit around the giant asteroid?  Should the solar-powered probe be propelled into a permanent heliocentric orbit with its gamma ray detectors pointing Sunward in an effort to detect and study gamma ray bursts?  While many possibilities were entertained, ultimately the decision was made to attempt a controlled descent to the surface of 433 Eros.  Although key members of the NEAR team rejected this proposal for various reasons, not the least of which was the possibility the probe would be destroyed in the process and reputations irreversibly tarnished, the touchdown option was nonetheless given the green light (despite the fact the spacecraft wasn’t designed as a lander) as it presented an unprecedented opportunity to obtain a long series of increasingly high resolution photographs during the descent.

In the wake of the 1998 malfunction, the revised end of mission date was slated for Valentine’s Day 2001 (i.e., 14 February 2001).  As a result, the decision was made to initiate the spacecraft’s controlled descent two days earlier as, beyond 14 February, mission funding would cease but time (and therefore money) would still be needed to process the incoming data.

With the official end of mission looming just ahead, at 10:31 AM EST on 12 February 2001, APL initiated NEAR Shoemaker’s controlled descent to the surface of 433 Eros.  As it happened, 4.5 hours later NEAR Shoemaker touched down on the surface of the asteroid at a gentle impact velocity of only 1.7 m/s, possibly the lowest ever according to NEAR Mission Director Dr. Robert Farquhar.  The spacecraft came to rest on the tips of two solar panels and the bottom edge of the main body, a picture-perfect three-point landing.  The spacecraft remained fully operational on the asteroid surface and, ultimately, the mission was given a ten-day extension to conduct the first ever scientific analyses from the surface of an asteroid.

touchdown

With the graceful touchdown of Near Shoemaker on the pockmarked surface of 433 Eros, we’d now come full circle.  The hypothetical landing of a spacecraft on an asteroid, first envisioned by Hollywood science fiction screenwriters in 1968, had been dutifully translated into science fact by APL scientists 33 years later, in 2001.

Although, in and of itself, this synchronism stands on its own merits, constituting yet another example of the 1968/2001 anomaly, intriguingly, additional 33-year synchronisms seem to reverberate about this historic event as well as several other related synchronisms.

For space scientists, astronomers, astrophysicists and mankind itself, 12 February 2001 was a very special historic day.  Not only was it a day during which the United States of America finally bested the Soviet Union in terms of being the first nation to touchdown on an asteroid (the Soviets were the first to land spacecraft on the Moon, Venus and Mars), but it was also a day during which a treasure trove of unique celestial photographs was transmitted millions of miles back to Earth for eager eyes to pour over and ponder.  As the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft descended to the surface of 433 Eros, asteroid features never before seen were brought into high resolution focus with crystal clarity, serving to answer many existing questions while, at the same time, raising a whole host of new ones.  As a quick Google search will reveal, an impressive array of seemingly homogeneous images emerge in relation to the NEAR Shoemaker mission as the following photographs illustrate.

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map 02

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Gray, crater-laden, survey maps with latitude and longitude grids cordoning off one asteroid landmark after another seem to exemplify the pinnacle of imagery following in the wake the 12 February 2001 spacecraft landing and many enthusiasts of the sci-fi genre might say this imagery harkens back some 33 years ago to an intriguing 1968 film.

At this point we’ve succeeded in tying the 12 February 2001 landing of NEAR Shoemaker (on 433 Eros) to the 1968 MGM film The Green Slime by virtue of the film’s hypothetical depiction of the very same type of spacecraft landing (on the fictitious asteroid Flora).  In addition to this achievement, we’ve also succeeded in tying the 1968 film The Green Slime to Arthur C. Clarke by virtue of his 1993 novel The Hammer of God as well as its 1998 silver screen adaptation Deep Impact, which recycles the asteroid/comet rendezvous portion of the storyline from the 1968 film.  Although, admittedly, this latter linkage leaves us with but a tangential relationship between the 12 February 2001 landing and Clarke’s 1968 film 2001 ASO (remembering The Hammer of God was originally written for publication in Time magazine’s new millennium issue), there also exists what many may look upon as an intriguing direct linkage that, to this author’s knowledge, has never been commented upon…that is, until now.

In the second sequence from the film 2001 ASO, Dr. Heywood R. Floyd of the National Council of Astronautics travels from Earth to the Clavius lunar base via an orbiting space station.  His objective:  to conduct a briefing during which he’ll gain additional facts and opinions concerning the discovery of the mysterious black monolith as well as prepare a report for the council, recommending when and how the news of the discovery should eventually be announced publicly.  He also seeks to obtain formal security oaths in writing from anyone with knowledge of the discovery.  Once the briefing’s adjourned, Dr. Floyd accompanies Dr. Rolf Halvorsen and one of his colleagues to the monolith excavation site near the crater Tycho.  From the passenger cabin of the lunar shuttle en route to the excavation site, Dr. Floyd informally discusses the circumstances surrounding the discovery over coffee and sandwiches.  It’s at this point Dr. Halvorsen informs Dr. Floyd attention was drawn to the site (TMA-1) due to an intense magnetic field not even a large nickel-iron meteorite could produce.  When the determination was made the magnetic anomaly hadn’t been caused by an outcropping of magnet rock, it was thought there might be some sort of buried structure responsible for the intense readings and this in turn lead to the excavation.  The scientists go on to inform Dr. Floyd that the monolith wasn’t covered up by erosion or other natural forces but rather seems to have been deliberately buried 40 feet beneath the lunar surface 4 million years ago.  It’s at this point that Dr. Halvorsen’s colleague presents Dr. Floyd with several printouts documenting the discovery – this will be the primary focus of the investigation to follow.

In the first image included below, Dr. Floyd inspects a modified stereographic projection survey of TMA-1 and its immediate surroundings.  Whereas 2001 ASO had its TMA-1 and its modified stereographic projection survey, the NEAR Shoemaker mission had both its DSM-1 and its TSM-1 as well as its cylindrical and morphographic-conformal projection surveys, both of which were presented amid the Eros images displayed above.

survey 01survey 02

In another of the documents inspected by Dr. Floyd (below) we find a survey map of the Tycho region bounded by the very same sort of latitude and longitude grid lines we found in relation to the equivalent survey maps of 433 Eros, which derive from the NEAR Shoemaker mission photos.

survey 03

Notwithstanding the presence of the same grayish, crater-ridden, regolithic surfaces depicted in both images of the lunar site in 2001 ASO and the NEAR Shoemaker images of 433 Eros, there’s another, even more intriguing similarity between the two, which becomes evident in inspecting one final image harvested from the 2001 ASO film (below).

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survey 05

Prior to the 2007 Blu-ray release of 2001 ASO, the TMA-1 map survey date wasn’t so easily discernible but, as the HD still included above clearly conveys, the TMA-1 discovery, which Dr. Halverson’s colleague indicates “started the whole thing,” dates to 021201 or, equivalently, 12 February 2001, the very date the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, for the first time in human history, touched down upon the surface of an asteroid!  Given the fact there are 365 days in a year, the likelihood this particular date would be selected as the date of the TMA-1 survey is very small (just over 0.2%).  It’s also highly unlikely the folks at APL planned this landing date with the 2001 ASO film in mind as an anomalous engine failure in 1998 unexpectedly dragged the mission out far longer than planned.  Moreover, as indicated previously, the 12 February 2001 date was selected with the new end of mission date in mind (14 February 2001) – time and funding was needed to process the incoming descent data.

If the synchronism of the 12 February 2001 date from the 2001 ASO film and the NEAR Shoemaker landing, augmented by the homogeneous photographic imagery deriving from both, isn’t enough to convince one of the existence of a genuine temporal anomaly, then one additional item need be considered.

Bearing in mind the acronym TMA from the 2001 ASO film equates to Tycho Magnetic Anomaly and this anomaly (the powerful magnetic field generated by the buried monolith) would’ve been detected by dragging a highly sensitive magnetometer across the lunar surface, the reader should be reminded that, included among NEAR Shoemaker’s instrumentation pack, was a highly sensitive flux-gate magnetometer that was designed to measure the global magnetic field of 433 Eros with an accuracy of +/-5 nT.  NEAR’s magnetometer obtained extensive magnetic field observations of Eros at distances ranging from more than 100,000 km to those conducted on the surface after landing and, as it turns out, the results of these observations are quite intriguing.

near mag

In issue 37 of the scientific periodical Meteoritics & Planetary Science (published in 2002) a paper entitled 433 Eros: Problems with the meteorite magnetism record in attempting an asteroid match by Drs. Wasilewski, Acuna and Kletetschka of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics (Greenbelt, MD), appeared.  The excerpts below contain the introductory paragraphs from the paper as well as a related graph.

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In a 2002 issue of the scientific periodical Icarus (#155), a joint paper entitled NEAR Magnetic Field Observations at 433 Eros: First Measurements from the Surface of an Asteroid, written by a seven-member team of scientists from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, The John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of California Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and the University of California Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, appeared.  The excerpts below derive from the paper’s opening abstract and the section-six discussion.

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From the 30 May 2001 edition of Science News we extract the following (URL:  https://www.sciencenews.org/article/asteroid-eros-poses-magnetic-puzzle?mode=magazine&context=301):

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A magnetic puzzle or a major magnetic mystery (as characterized by Ron Cowen in the final piece cited above) could equivalently be described as a magnetic enigma or magnetic anomaly and this again directly links the NEAR Shoemaker mission to the 2001 ASO film with its TMA or Tycho Magnetic Anomaly (i.e., the buried black monolith).

Although in the minds of many readers the homogeneous imagery, the same milestone date (12 February 2001) and synchronous magnetic anomalies might be more than sufficient to shore up the notion a genuine temporal anomaly exists between the 1968 film 2001 ASO and the 2001 reality of the Near Shoemaker spacecraft landing on 433 Eros, I’d like to explore one additional and closely related synchronism the reader may find compelling.

Bearing in mind the film and novel 2001 ASO emerged from the mind of Arthur C. Clarke, we should now revisit Clarke’s 1992 short story (1993 novel) The Hammer of God.  Although the novel has already been linked to 2001 by virtue of 2001 being the first year of the new millennium and the story’s appearance in Time Magazine’s new millennium issue as well as linked to 1968 by recycling the asteroid landing plot of The Green Slime, it can also be tied directly to the NEAR Shoemaker mission to 433 Eros in a very surprising way.

In the 1992 short story The Hammer of God, the spacecraft Goliath is dispatched on a mission to intercept and deflect a massive peanut-shaped asteroid called Kali, which is on a collision course with Earth.  While this scenario is one that is no doubt familiar to the reader at this point, there are a couple of intriguing aspects of Clarke’s hypothetical asteroid worthy of further consideration.

The seven news and science sources referenced in the links below all describe 433 Eros as a peanut-shaped asteroid in the very same manner Clarke describes his hypothetical asteroid in 1992’s The Hammer of God:

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Not to be outdone by the asteroid’s morphology, the name Clarke assigns to his planet-killer is just as eerie.  Although Eros and Kali are both short, 4-letter words, consisting of two consonants and two vowels, there’s a much deeper connection between the two names as the information below attests.

In the first excerpt below (URL:  http://uniqueself.com/eros-and-pseudo-eros-part-1/), Dr. Marc Gafni underscores the equivalence between Eros and Kali.

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In a similar piece written by Colin Robinson, who served as editor of Ferment from June 1990 to Jul 2009 (Ferment, Australia – Sydney, New South Wales), we find a bit more rigorous academic underscoring of the relationship (URL:  http://weareferment.net/eros.html#what)

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So, to put into perspective what we’ve learned, we encounter a 1992 fictional short story written with the beginning of the new millennium in mind (i.e., the year 2001), describing a spacecraft rendezvous with a peanut-shaped asteroid named Kali.  By comparison, in the year 2001 we encounter a real-world spacecraft rendezvous with a peanut-shaped asteroid named Eros, a name which is synonymous with the name Kali.

The reader should be reminded that the start of the NEAR Shoemaker mission was 1996, a date four years subsequent to the publication of Clarke’s story and likely a longer intervening interval when considering the date of the story’s conception.  Also important to consider are Clarke’s recollections of the story’s genesis (taken from his 1993 novel The Hammer of God – Pg. 236):  “My coauthor Gregory Benford (Beyond the Fall of Night) has just reminded me of the novel he and William Rotsler wrote on the theme of asteroid deflection – Shiva Descending (1980).  I must confess that I’ve never read it, but I was certainly aware of the title, and it may well have subconsciously influenced the choice of Kali (Shiva’s consort) as the name for my asteroid.  It popped into my head instantly when I started writing.

Based upon the publication date of Clarke’s original 1992 short story in relation to the NEAR mission chronology and his own recollections, one can be reasonably certain he was unaware of the details of the NEAR mission at the time (which, at that early date, were in their unpublished, embryonic stages – an in-depth search will reveal the first drips and drabs concerning the NEAR mission didn’t appear until 1993/1994) and, as a result, another explanation must be sought to explain this bizarre synchronism (that is, assuming the reader finds the similarities sufficiently compelling).  It’s interesting to note Clarke claimed the name Kali magically popped into his head, perhaps as if planted there.

As, based upon the information presented here, the 1998 film Deep Impact seems to have more compelling ties to the year 2001, a more in-depth analysis of its nearly identical 1998 twin, Armageddon, will be forthcoming.

Please standby…