Approved for Implementation Phase
successful Confirmation Assessment and Preliminary Design
Reviews in May, NASA has given approval for the first Mercury
orbiter mission to move into full-scale spacecraft development.
short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry
and Ranging, will launch in March 2004 and orbit Mercury for
one Earth year beginning in April 2009. MESSENGER's seven
scientific instruments will provide the first ../../../images of the
entire planet and collect detailed information on the composition
and structure of Mercury's crust, its geologic history, the
nature of its thin atmosphere and active magnetosphere, and
the makeup of its core and polar materials.
is the most complex and challenging Discovery-class mission
we have ever attempted, and our goal is to do something never
before attempted," says Dr. Jay Bergstralh, chief scientist
for NASA's Solar System Exploration Division in NASA's Office
of Space Science in Washington, D.C. "Conducting a yearlong
mission to orbit a planet only 36 million miles from the sun
for relatively low cost is an amazing concept, and we have
selected a top-flight team to build and fly this mission."
Sean C. Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington
(D.C.) is the mission's principal investigator. The Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel,
Md., manages the mission for NASA and will design, build and
operate the MESSENGER spacecraft. Preliminary work on the
mission began 18 months ago.
will be only the second spacecraft to visit Mercury. Mariner
10 flew past it three times in 1974 and 1975 but gathered
data on less than half the planet. "This is an opportunity
to complete the detailed exploration of the inner solar system,
on a planet where we've never even seen half the surface,"
said Solomon says. "We've had many exciting missions to Mars
and Venus that yielded new theories about the processes that
shaped the inner planets. Mercury is that last piece of the
for an animation of MESSENGER's journey to Mercury.
the full press release here.
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