News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

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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