MESSENGER Begins Fall Toward Sun

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft was successfully launched this morning at 11:15:56 a.m. PST. The spacecraft will be the first mission to the planet Mercury in 30 years and will be the first spacecraft to ever orbit the innermost planet of our solar system.

When falling toward the Sun, like falling toward the Earth without a parachute, an object begins to accelerate. The fuel requirements for a direct flight to Mercury are cost prohibitive, so MESSENGER will take a looping route using the gravity of the Earth and Venus to slow itself down to the appropriate speed to be captured by Mercury. MESSENGER will arrive at the planet in 2011 to begin a one year mission. Only 40 percent of the planet has been photographed, and most of the images are low resolution.

Because the spacecraft will be operating so close to the Sun, a sunshade is required. The instruments behind the sunshade will enjoy room temperature.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).