The spacecraft ‘Messenger’ is scheduled to orbit the planet Mercury in 2011 after 4.9 billion miles traveled that includes 15 trips around the sun. But enroute to that orbit it will pass by it’s target 3 times (Jan 2008, Oct 2008, Sept 2009) before matching the planets orbit and speed around the Sun.
With Messenger passing by Mercury the other day at an altitude of 125 miles, NASA is getting some great photos already and I’m excited about the possibilities once she’s inserted into orbit in a few years. Including having access to regions of the planet that were previously not available to the Mariner craft on its 3 passes.
If you’re wondering why in the heck we’re sending a craft to the ‘First Rock from the Sun’, you can read about the 6 questions its science payload are expected to answer.
Interesting tidbit about this craft is that it should have no problem powering it’s batteries via solar power since it’ll be extremely close to the Sun. But in the case of Messenger it will need to periodically turn it’s solar panels away from the Sun to avoid overheating.
Mercury was named for the swift Roman “messenger” god, since it travels around the Sun faster than any other planet.