Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Messenger Passes One Billion Miles

Q: What’s going to happen in the early (EST) morning of March 18, 2011? Now think about it – this is important!
A: At that time, the Messenger Spacecraft will be captured by the planet Mercury’s gravity and one of the most interesting planetary studies in history will officially begin.

The last (and only) time we got a close up look at Mercury was the three Mariner 10 fly-bys in 1974-75. And those were quick looks with only a fraction of the planet mapped and sans sophisticated instruments.

On August 12, 2005, the Messenger spacecraft was launched from earth toward Mercury. Soon enough, Mercury will be under close scrutiny by the people of earth.

While Mercury is not that far away in Solar System distances, the mission design uses six planetary close approaches to adjust it’s speed and guide it into the desired orbit in the inner solar system. One earth flyby, two Venus and three Mercury before it reaches its final permanent orbit around the innermost planet in 2011. These close encounters bend, rotate and shrink the spacecraft’s orbit to match its ultimate target.

The Messenger mission is apparently so un-newsworthy that it has flown under the radar of nearly every news service on the planet. Almost no one, it seems, is aware of the mission or its incredible potential for discovery.

Because Mercury is so close to the sun, it is nearly impossible to study it form the earth, because Mercury literally gets lost in the glare of the sun. Further, it’s sunlit face almost never points toward us, so that all we ever get is a partial illuminated disk and mostly a dark face. But now with the Messenger spacecraft, we will have an orbiting scientific platform around Mercury and we will at last find out more about this very difficult to study, very difficult to get to and still very enigmatic planet.

Messenger passed the 1 billion mile mark on its long trek to Mercury in March.

For more information on the Mercury Messenger Mission, click here.