NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft is likely to crash into the surface of Mercury on Thursday.
The MESSENGER spacecraft will impact Mercury at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) on the side of the planet facing away from Earth.
The spacecraft was launched by NASA in 2004 to study Mercury. The MESSENGER spacecraft’s orbital mission is coming to an end as the spacecraft runs out of propellant.
Installed on the spacecraft, the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer (MASCS) instrument was designed to study both the exosphere and surface of the planet Mercury.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury. The spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments have unraveled the history and evolution of the solar system’s innermost planet. In the mission’s more than four years of orbital operations, the spacecraft has acquired over 250,000 images and extensive data sets, NASA said in a statement.
“For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system,” stated John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission. It’s the beginning of a longer journey to analyze the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury,” Grunsfeld added.
The MESSENGER spacecraft traveled for more than six and a half years before it was inserted into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. The prime mission was to orbit the planet and collect data for one Earth year.
In addition to scientific discoveries, the MESSENGER spacecraft mission provided many technological firsts, including the development of a vital heat-resistant and highly reflective ceramic cloth sunshade that isolated the spacecraft’s instruments and electronics from direct solar radiation, according to NASA.
Scientists believe that this technology will help inform future designs for planetary missions within our solar system.
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