August 3, 2009 - Winged MESSENGER

Winged MESSENGER Mercury is the least studied inner planet, having been scrutinized up close by a single spacecraft, Mariner 10, which made three brief flybys of the closest planet to the Sun in 1974 and 1975. But all that is about to change. Five years ago this week, NASA launched the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft (MESSENGER), which will make history when it becomes the first spacecraft to enter permanent orbit around Mercury in 2011. MESSENGER needs seven years to complete a series of six gravity assists (of Earth, Venus, and Mercury) to fine-tune its trajectory with a minimum expenditure of fuel. On its first Mercury flyby in January 2008, MESSENGER returned this image of varied terrain in a previously uncharted region of Mercury.

Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington


Weekly Calendar

August 3-9, 2009

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Moon phase Monday 3

Moon at apogee

2004: MESSENGER spacecraft launched to Mercury
2005: First in-flight space shuttle repair

Moon phase Tuesday 4

1967: NASA announces sixth astronaut class
1984: First Ariane 3 launched
2007: Phoenix Mars Lander launched

Moon phase Wednesday 5

Full Moon 8:55 pm

1930: Neil Armstrong born
1966: Final M2-F1 lifting body glide test
1969: Mariner 7 flies by Mars

Moon phase Thursday 6

Jupiter 3° south of Moon
Neptune 3° south of Moon

1961: Vostok 2 launched, first full-day human space mission, Gherman Titov first person to sleep in space

Moon phase Friday 7

1959: Explorer 6 launched
1969: Zond 7 launched
1980: Viking 1 orbiter ceases operation
1997: STS-85 Discovery launched

Moon phase Saturday 8

1978: Pioneer-Venus 2 launched
1989: Hipparcos observatory launched
1989: STS-28 Columbia launched
2001: Genesis spacecraft launched
2007: STS-118 Endeavour launched

Moon phase Sunday 9

Uranus 6° south of Moon

1965: First static test of SIV-B stage
1976: Luna 24 launched

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.