Image & Illustration Credit & Copyright: NASA/JHUAPL.
With the burn up of Venus Express in late 2014-early 2015, one of our two eyes to the inferior (inner) planets was extinguished. Unfortunately, it seems that this week, by the end of April, after nearly 11 years in space and more than 4 years and 4,000 orbits around Mercury, MESSENGER will meet its fate as well.
NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft (MESSENGER) was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Space Launch Complex-17B (SLC-17B) on August 3, 2004 on a Boeing Delta II rocket to study the first rock from the Sun.
After 7 years of flyby’s and gravity assists, MESSENGER became the 1st spacecraft to orbit the 1st planet on March 17, 2011 (18th UTC time) where it remains today, imaging and sending back never seen before data. A survivor of mission extensions, and corrections to boost its orbit, it seems MESSENGER will not survive much longer. As fuel runs dry MESSENGER’s orbit has gotten lower and lower and is days from impacting the surface, hopefully sending data back through the entire descent. What a great mission it’s been and I never cease to be amazed at the imagery and knowledge gleaned through this spacecraft and its team.
The next mission to Mercury is slated to be BepiColombo, a joint ESA/NASA mission sending a pair of spacecraft to the 1st planet in 2024 to study the planets sore, composition and magnetic field. Launch will likely be sometime in 2017.
NASA & Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHUAPL) Messenger: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/
NASA Messenger site: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/main/index.html
Where is Messenger: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/whereis/index.php
Where is Mercury: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/education/whereMercury/
JHUAPL Messenger image gallery: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/the_mission/gallery.html
JHUAPL Messenger image gallery (all images): http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/view.php?gallery_id=2
JPL Photojournal: MERCURY: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/targetFamily/Mercury
Planetary Society Bruce Murray image library of Mercury images: http://www.planetary.org/multimedia/space-images/mercury/?keywords=messenger
Great Mercury images: http://cseligman.com/text/planets/mercury.htm
Messenger on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/MESSENGER-Mission/143392389006241
Messenger on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MESSENGER2011