messenger spacecraft

Image courtesy of NASA

The Sun’s closest neighbor, Mercury, now has a spacecraft zooming around its orbit.  NASA’s Messenger spacecraft successfully achieved orbit around Mercury on Thursday , March 17th, 2011 around 9 p.m. EDT.  This is the first spacecraft to begin orbiting Mercury, a milestone for US space exploration.

Mercury is located in a very hot part of our solar system, only an average of 58 kilometers from the sun.  Because of this harsh thermal environment, engineers from the Applied Physics Laboratory began monitoring the spacecraft to make sure all of its instruments are working on March 23.  On April 4th, 2011 MESSENGER will begin collecting scientific data.

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