NASA Messenger Spacecraft To Impact Mercury

Did you know that the Messenger spacecraft is short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging? Quite a long name for quite an important job. The Messenger launched on August 2, 2004. It has been exploring Venus and Mercury, but the Messenger spacecraft will be falling out of orbit and crashing on the surface of Mercury this month!

Messenger Spacecraft Missions to Explore Mercury and Venus

The first spacecraft to visit Mercury was the Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975. The Mariner 10 was built to fly past Mercury and Venus and take snapshots of their surfaces, and conduct other experiments regarding the atmosphere and geology. Mariner 10 is no longer active and continues to orbit the Sun.

The Messenger spacecraft is lightweight, as well as having a heat resistant ceramic cloth that will keep it cool in the atmosphere of Mercury but it can’t protect it from losing altitude. The spacecraft itself was made well-equipped with sixteen monopropellant thrusters, enabling it to maneuver with simple, small, orbit corrections. It also had a main, larger bipropellant that was able to smoothly correct larger trajectories, as well as eject the main craft into orbit. With a mass of more than 2,400 pounds, being fifty-five percent propellants, the Messenger originally had plenty of fuel for maneuvering. The Messenger spacecraft circled around Venus two times, Earth once, and returned to Mercury three times. Upon the third trip, it decelerated into orbit around the planet and began scientific experiments.

Long, Fruitful Mission

This spacecraft has been circling Mercury since March 2011, photographing and measuring the planet surface, providing vital information to scientists. However, the Messenger spacecraft is now out of fuel for making altitude corrections and will fall out of orbit. Unable to maintain orbit, it will be plunging out of the sky on April 30. Mission Engineer, Dan O’Shaughnessy of NASA says that the Messenger spacecraft will impact Mercury on the 30th, but the impact won’t be witnessed because the area will be blocked from view thanks to the Earth.

Mercury will impact with Messenger at a speed of 8,750 miles per hour. A crater of about fifty-two feet will be expected to come from the impact. Craters are not new to Mercury, but the one the Messenger will create will surely peak scientific interest. Sean Solomon of Columbia University is the mission’s principal investigator, as well as one of the people curious about the soon-to-be crater left on Mercury. Having an impact that is traceable will be a landmark after the Messenger spacecraft crashes. Unfortunately, the crater won’t be studied on the surface now, but a promising probe set to launch in 2017 and orbit the Mercury in 2024 certainly could…

The  Messenger spacecraft continuing to explore the skies of space for over a decade and this hot air balloon festival are a true mark of the fascination of the world above us: