Friday, December 16, 2005

MESSENGER Spacecraft Heads for Venus Fly-by

NASA's MESSENGER Spacecraft successfully fired the last of its 17 thrusters, the largest, putting it on track for a fly-by of Venus in October 2006.
After two close encounters with Venus, MESSENGER is expected to slide around Mercury in 2011, becoming the first satellite to study the innermost planet from orbit.
Despite a previously successful NASA mission to Mercury, little is known about its composition or formation. In fact, less than half of its surface has been imaged at all.
Mariner 10 was the first spacecraft to use a dual-planet gravity-assist maneuver and the first and still only craft to visit the hellish little rock. It was also the first probe to scout two planets in a single mission, Venus and Mercury.
Just about everything we know about Mercury comes from the Mariner 10 mission, including the possibility of ice-filled craters at its north pole.

MESSENGER will expand our knowledge of Mercury, answer questions about the formation of the Solar System, and finally provide us with a complete set of photos of our littlest neighbor.

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