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NASA Messenger Spacecraft Achieves Historic Orbit Around Mercury


NASA's Messenger spacecraft settled into orbit around Mercury at approximately 9 pm EDT last night, NASA reports:

MESSENGER's main thruster fired for approximately 15 minutes at 8:45 p.m., slowing the spacecraft by 1,929 miles per hour and easing it into the planned orbit about Mercury. The rendezvous took place about 96 million miles from Earth. 

"Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since MESSENGER was launched more than six and a half years ago," said Peter Bedini, MESSENGER project manager of the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "This accomplishment is the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile journey." 

For the next several weeks, APL engineers will be focused on ensuring the spacecraft's systems are all working well in Mercury's harsh thermal environment. Starting on March 23, the instruments will be turned on and checked out, and on April 4 the mission's primary science phase will begin. 

The photo above was shot by the Messenger spacecraft as it neared the planet closest to the sun in January 2008.

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  1. This is astounding. So so glad you follow this stuff, from one outer space geek to another...

    Posted by: Robert | Mar 18, 2011 8:23:02 AM

  2. I love it when you do these postings. The articles are interesting and the pictures are SPECTACULAR! You make me geek out every time. :-)

    Posted by: MT | Mar 18, 2011 9:10:13 AM

  3. The space stuff is one of the greatest assets of Towleroad. Many thanks!

    Posted by: Bob | Mar 18, 2011 9:45:43 AM

  4. Ditto. Makes me think we should start a gay space nerd club. My partner and I went to see Discovery's liftoff in February, which was one of the coolest things I've ever done. I was happy to introduce him to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.

    Posted by: John | Mar 18, 2011 12:18:04 PM

  5. Thanks for posting this story. Very interesting stuff. I hope they get some good information or pictures.

    Posted by: Ty | Mar 18, 2011 1:14:51 PM

  6. I hope the moon doesn't notice that Mercury seems to be wearing the same outfit...

    Posted by: Josh | Mar 18, 2011 1:17:36 PM

  7. I'm all for the gay space-nerd club. When's the first meeting?

    Posted by: jamal49 | Mar 19, 2011 3:58:35 PM

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